England vs Montenegro: Refusal to raise punishments against racial abuse lets down footballers like Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose were all subjected to racial abuse during the game

Miguel Delaney
Podgorica City Stadium
Tuesday 26 March 2019 15:23 GMT
Hudson-Odoi calls for UEFA to take action after England win marred by racist chanting

Really, you could reasonably say it is a level of denial that is a big part of the problem.

When the Montenegrin manager Ljubisa Tumbakovic came out for his post-game press conference, he was very quickly asked by the English press about the audible racist chanting towards Raheem Sterling, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Danny Rose.

He didn’t immediately get to answer, because his press officer instantly stepped in to attempt to cut out the question.

“No one heard racist chanting,” the official repeatedly insisted, despite it being put to him that the players visibly reacted to it; Gareth Southgate had literally mentioned he heard it, that the Uefa delegate heard it and that England were going to make a complaint. So much for “no one” hearing it.

There were then the tragic words uttered by Hudson-Odoi.

“When you are hearing stuff like that from the fans it’s not right, it’s unacceptable and hopefully Uefa deal with it properly. When I went over there, me and [Danny Rose] Rosey heard it. They were saying monkey stuff.”

Southgate rightly expressed sadness that a mere teenager had to be asked about this, straight after what should have been one of the greatest nights of his career.

The press officer eventually had to be persuaded to let Tumbakovic answer. The manager at least only put things from his own perspective, rather than trying to speak for everyone else in the stadium.

“I didn't hear or notice any of that. I don't see the reason why I should be commenting on that. I didn't hear that kind of chanting, and I was focused very much on the game, which I was attending to. So I didn't pay attention to anything else.”

The sad reality is that if Uefa continue with their own usual policy towards racist chanting, he won’t have to pay much more attention to it. Last season saw Zenit St Petersburg fined a total of €70,000 by Uefa for “racist behaviour of its supporters”, and ordered to play one game behind closed doors, with that just a few months after their national team - Russia - had been fined just £22,000 for similarly appalling chants in a friendly against France.

As it stands, the minimum punishment by Uefa is a partial stadium closure, with a second offence bringing one match played behind closed doors and a fine of €50,000. Only any subsequent offence is sanctioned with more than one match behind closed doors, a stadium closure, the forfeiting of a match, the deduction of points and/or disqualification from the competition.

That’s still not hard enough. It's still initially too soft, for something there is supposed to be zero-tolerance of.

These punishments are just too negligible to make a difference. They don’t make any difference. Such incidents continue.

The wider reasons for such racism are obviously cultural and sociological, and go way beyond football, but that doesn’t mean football should put up with it or not try to set an example.

The game should not accept this seeping into stadiums. And the way that is stopped is with proper punishment with real consequence. Games behind closed doors would be a start. Docked points would be a serious message.

They would force serious responses, as well as deeper attempts to tackle these problems, and not initial refusals to acknowledge issues like the Montenegrin press officer.

It might also influence a deeper awareness of the issue, and what the problem actually is. As Southgate astutely summed up, “sanctions are meaningless without education”, and he didn’t spare his own country that. He specifically mentioned how it’s a problem in England, too. Sterling can testify to that.

Gareth Southgate said he heard Danny Rose being racially abused (Reuters)
Gareth Southgate said he heard Danny Rose being racially abused (Reuters) (PA)

His own response was, of course, highly understandable. After scoring, he cupped his ears to the fans in the end where abuse had been most audible. Sterling later put a picture of himself celebrating like that on his Instagram, with the following caption.

“Best way to silence the haters [yeah I mean racists],” he wrote, before adding a hashtag that said "get some education".

That’s the way to silence them, no doubt.

Sterling being Sterling, however, he also suggested a way to punish them. He called for stadium closures. It's difficult to disagree. It’s time for the governing bodies to listen to one of the footballers that has been let down.

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