- Chris Smalling says football authorities are beginning to listen to players who have been racially abused.
- UEFA implemented a “three-step protocol” to combat racism, which was first used in England’s 6-0 win over Bulgaria last month.
- “Now it’s being highlighted, which I think is a good thing,” Smalling told Business Insider. “I think the football federations are starting to listen.”
- However, on Sunday, Serie A striker Mario Balotelli was subject to monkey chants but the alleged abuse from Verona fans has been denied by the club’s manager and ignored entirely by the Italian FA.
- Read more of our soccer coverage here.
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Chris Smalling says he believes football authorities are finally starting to listen to players who have been racially abused.
UEFA implemented a three-step protocol this season for international fixtures, whereby the games can be abandoned should racist behaviour from the stands continue after a series of stadium announcements.
The system was used for the first time last month during England’s 6-0 win over Bulgaria, where the game was halted twice and fans were ejected from the stadium in Sofia.
The new measures attracted a negative response with England’s Tammy Abraham suggesting the team should have walked off. The ITV pundit and former England and Arsenal striker Ian Wright said authorities do “nowhere near enough” to tackle the problem.
But Smalling, who moved to AS Roma on a season-long loan from Manchester United this summer, feels the step from UEFA, though not perfect, has been positive.
“It’s being highlighted, which I think is a good thing,” the 29-year-old told Business Insider. “We’ve had quite a divide between players and football federations in terms of not really being able to bridge that gap, and I feel like now the organisations are definitely willing to hear more from players in terms of our stories and what we might suggest, because ultimately, there needs to be closeness so that we can stop these very few people that are ruining the game.”
He added: “It’s difficult. Each situation is different, I think. Because you can carry on and show that the very few people in the crowd that they don’t win, like in the English game.
“But then there might be another situation where the punishments given to these idiotic individuals is maybe not enough, then maybe a different stand from players needs to happen. But I think the football federations are starting to listen.”
Italian football’s recent denial suggests otherwise
Italian football has found itself embroiled in another racism controversy at the weekend, when Brescia’s Mario Balotelli appeared to be abused by fans of Verona.
The former Liverpool striker was subjected to monkey chants during Sunday’s game at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi, resulting in him kicking the ball into the crowd and threatening to walk off the field in protest.
Mario Balotelli responded to the racist chants by kicking the ball into the stands.
His teammates and match officials convinced the striker to remain on the pitch. pic.twitter.com/vvzuY7oBHZ
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 3, 2019
He was persuaded to remain on the pitch by players and officials but said on an Instagram live story after the match that: “The ‘people’ who made the monkey chants. Shame on you, shame on you, shame on you. In front of your children, wives, relatives, parents, friends and acquaintances … shame.”
The abuse aimed at Balotelli was denied by Verona boss Ivan Juric, who said, according to the BBC, that it was “nothing more” than “whistling and teasing.”
But while Juric downplayed the monkey chants, the Italian Football Federation appear to have ignored the incident entirely, failing to acknowledge it on their social media channels and website. It also failed to respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.
Piara Powar, executive of anti-racism network “Fare”, says such inability to act forms part of a worrying pattern, with similar abuse and subsequent lack of action happening to a number of other players in the division this season, including Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku.
“Mario Balotelli has taken a stand against racism and we applaud him for it,” Powar told the BBC.
“But the question many people are asking is why other players on the pitch, his teammates and players from Verona, thought it more appropriate to tell him to stay and suffer instead of joining him in solidarity?
“There is so much to do in Italy, so much education, so much regulatory work, the situation is out of control.
“We will add it to the list of incidents in Italy and present it to the authorities, but there seems little prospect of effective action being taken.
“It is a depressing picture.”
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