Tackling intolerance

Held once every four years, the World Cup of soccer is the world’s largest sporting competition, drawing hundreds of millions of passionate onlookers.

There’s no better way to honour the world’s game than having the global community come together to celebrate in unison.

This amalgamation of numerous nationalities might lead Canadians to associate soccer with skill, sportsmanship and tolerance. However, this sentiment isn’t globally-held.

Russia is set to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, and we should be asking ourselves if they’re culturally prepared enough to deserve the honour.

Institutionalized racism still rears its ugly head at the club level in Russian football. Recently, Russian teams have come under fire for the xenophobic behaviour displayed by their fans during games.

There have been reports of racist monkey chants directed at black players, bananas being hurled at players and the brandishing of banners carrying neo-Nazi symbols.

While the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) has measures in place to combat these attitudes, only soft punishments have been given thus far, while club officials tend to avoid acknowledging any real problems.

Monetary fines and stadium lockouts have been ineffective in dealing with the root of the issue, often punishing large numbers of fans who haven’t participated in the chants.

In May, FIFA’s worldwide governing body agreed to impose stricter sanctions on fan behaviour during competitions. These penalties may include banishing clubs from top tournaments if their fans overstep the mark.

While imposing graver sanctions for racist behaviour during games is a great initiative, we need to hold FIFA accountable for following through. Hard lines need to be drawn fast to change the behaviour of fans before 2018.

While admittedly Russia isn’t the only country experiencing such challenges, the spotlight is already on them in the lead up to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Controversy surrounding Russia’s treatment of LGBT athletes and supporters has been widely debated in the global media.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has largely withdrawn from dialogue on the subject, while major Olympic corporate sponsors don’t seem to be protesting. What kind of questions does this prompt?

FIFA’s new sanctions and willingness to openly discuss these issues are a step in the right direction. As fans, we must strive to make sports a culture of acceptance and community.

In the name of soccer, we have four years to make this a reality.

Alex is the Journal’s Production Manager. He’s a third-year economics student.

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