Nicklas Bendtner’s fine: UEFA’s approach to racism isn’t hypocritical – it’s all part of the package
Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner has been fined 100,000 euros and banned for one match for showing his pants. The Croatian FA has been fined a lesser amount for racist chanting at a recent Euro 2012 match. People have duly reacted against this disparity in punishments. A much-retweeted sardonic comment laid it out thus: “UEFA fines: £45,000 Spain 2004 (racism); £16,500 Serbia 2007 (racism); £10,000 Croatia 2008 (racism). €100,000 Bendtner (exposing pants).”
Some have responded with incredulity: how can UEFA be against racism and yet treat it less seriously than a bit of alleged ‘guerrilla marketing’? For the more world-weary, it was a cynical lament: of course the football authorities care more about money than social responsibility. In either case, the point is clear: UEFA’s priorities are out-of-whack. The Bendtner case is just further illustration of that hypocrisy.
But to bemoan the way in which UEFA’s ostentatious anti-racism is undermined by evidence of a comparatively more forthright attitude to enforcing corporate branding guidelines misses the point. Football has been privatised. Free speech – crucial to the public sphere – is now at the discretion of football’s bosses. Punishment can be as arbitrary
as they like.
Many would agree that football bureaucrats are motivated by pecuniary concerns. We can lament this fact. We can be ‘Against Modern Football,’ as the ultras’ slogan across Europe has it. But for the foreseeable future, elite football is commercialised and commodified. The recent three-billion pound Premier League television rights deal
is a case in point.
But it would be a mistake to assume there is a pristine anti-racism campaign being corrupted, marginalised or overshadowed by modern football’s money-grubbing. Rather, the coexistence of institutional anti-racism and corporate toadying present no contradiction; they are part and parcel of the same. The organisation that issues fines for incorrect fan behaviour is the same that stringently polices corporate branding.
The squeaky-clean image UEFA – and FIFA – try to project is typically corporate and consequently multicultural. Its consumers and its employees, like its clients and sponsors, are global, diverse, heterogenous. There is no place for racism and other forms of discrimination. It’s very obviously bad-for-business.
The institutions which run football have effectively privatised football. An intrinsically public – because spectated upon – leisure pursuit has been transformed over the years into the private domain of those corporate bureaucracies. We can call it ‘our’ game, but at a professional level, it is very much ‘theirs’.
We should not therefore be surprised to find speech being tightly controlled. This includes corporate speech (as in the case of Bendtner’s underpants-based marketing) as much as it does fan expression at the game (from justified protests against unscrupulous club owners to unacceptable racist chanting).
The challenge today, for those disturbed by increasing control over football, is to demand that football be made ‘public’. When the people’s game is transformed into a private concern, the authorities can call the shots on what happens well beyond the pitch.
Compare the workplace context. There, employers curtail the speech of employees. That is because it is formally ‘private’ – a miniature fiefdom. A boss could try to sack an employee for, say, leafleting about exploitative working conditions. And just as we would be appalled by that and argue for the right for free expression and assembly, we should do likewise in football.
That means not just recoiling at the governing bodies’ apparent prioritisation of lucre over ethics. It means arguing that these organisations should not be allowed to police speech of any sort. Instances of racism in football are a disgrace. But it is for fans, as a community, to struggle against – not for the authorities to ban. When football’s governing institutions are ridiculed for generally cack-handed management, expecting them to then lead the fight against racism in society is an absurd proposition. Beyond governing the game and its rules, the authorities should butt-out.Tagged in: FIFA, football, Nicklas Bendtner, racism, Sport, Uefa
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