The European governing bodies of soccer pride themselves on the diversity that exists within their teams because a large number of ethnic minorities is at the forefront representing their teams. FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) also makes effort to go into various African countries to promote the growth of skill in soccer. While it seems as though there is much diversity in soccer and FIFA assists in less wealthy countries to nurture the sport, there is still racial discrimination that occurs. Through soccer’s major governing bodies, racial discrimination is perpetuated by those that are in positions of authority, and by the way in which players are poached from less wealthy countries. This will be examined by first outlining what white privilege, is and how it exists in soccer through colourblindness. This post will also examine major figures of authority and the way in which talented players are poached from major countries.
In order to understand how discrimination occurs, whiteness must be examined. Whiteness refers to the position of power that is “inflected differently by its intersections, with numerous and competing global, ethnic, political cultural, and racialized discourses” (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 4). It also refers to a set of non-visible privileges that benefit people identified as white. These privileges are not available to “othered bodies” and various institutions may appear to have no bias towards toward different races (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 2).
White privilege is made possible by white supremacy (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 3). This refers to the political, economic, and social conditions that allow for white people to be in positions of power (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 3). It also allows for reinforcement of unconscious and conscious ideas about white superiority (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 3). Further, white supremacy allows for the defense of any sort of racialized status by denying that racism exists (Hylton & Lawrence, 2014, p. 3). Though it was once enforced in racially explicit ways, institutions now enforce discrimination through implicit and “non-racial” means (Bonilla-Silva, 2001, p. 12).
This is often done in the form of colourblindness (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013, p. 640). Making claims that soccer is colourblind only serves to reinforce white hegemonic power (Burdsey, 2007, p. 9). This ideology means that ethnic and racial differences are disregarded and everyone should be treated the same manner (Ryan et al., 2007, p. 618). This colourblind ideology remains present in soccer as long as authorities such as coaches and team managers make claims that racism is not present (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013, p. 640). Both FIFA and the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) make it known that they believe in eliminating racism within the league, along with penalizing any clubs and players that do not adhere to this idea (Kassimeris, 2007).
Jose Mourinho, who is the manager of Manchester United, states “there is no racism in football… if you are good, you get the job… football is not stupid to close doors to top people” (Thomas, 2014). This particular quote demonstrates colourblindness through Mourinho’s outright denial of racism. He insists that race does not matter; as long as players exhibit skill, they will be successful.
The colourblind ideology also means that if someone discusses race or racism, they are perpetuating it (Doane, 2003). In 2011, the President of FIFA made similar claims. When asked if he believed whether or not racism existed in soccer, he states “there is no racism…at the end of the game we shake hands, and this can happen because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination” (Edwards, 2011). Sepp’s denial of racism is significant because he also addresses it by saying that it is something that everyone collectively, including himself has worked hard to get rid of, and because of this, it has been eradicated and no longer exists on the pitch. Major authority figures in soccer making aligning claims that racism does not exist certainly serves to reinforce white supremacy in soccer. It also denies white privilege through claims that skill is valued over skin colour. Therefore, the adoption of the colourblind ideology by these major figures reinforces racial discrimination.
Along with denials of racism however, there have been attempts to address racism that already exists within the league. For example, in 2015, the Rooney Rule had been implemented in the Premier League. Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, had originally created this rule for the NFL (BBC, 2015). The rule requires that at least one black or minority candidate be interviewed when head coaching positions and senior operation activities become available (BBC, 2015). This had been implemented to create a transparent recruiting environment and to address the problem that exists within the Premier League of very few black managers (BBC, 2015). The rule was implemented in response to Gordon Taylor, who is the manger of the players’ union. Taylor stated that black mangers do not get jobs as a “hidden resistance” exists within soccer (BBC Sport, 2014). Taylor also asked why there were only two managers that were black out of the 92 in the entire Premier League (BBC Sport, 2014). The Rooney Rule is meant to be piloting during the recruitment process for the 2016-2017 seasons (BBC, 2016). As of June 2016, there are three black and ethnic minority coaches out of 72 clubs (BBC, 2016). Such a rule is certainly a step forward in in having more minorities in positions of authority. However, simply interviewing at least one minority candidate for these positions does not necessarily mean that they will be the ones receiving these positions or that this will ultimately make a difference in the number of minorities. The effectiveness of this rule is still to be seen in the coming year.
Soccer’s larger governing bodies have also contributed to discrimination in terms of selecting players for teams. The Football Association (FA) of England tried to impose a limit on the number of black players for England’s team (The Guardian, 2015). The FA had told England’s manager, Graham Taylor that he should not go beyond a certain limit for selecting black players to play for the team (The Guardian, 2015). This is so that the team can maintain a predominantly white image, when representing England (The Guardian, 2015).
In contrast, it appears as though the Premier League’s teams are quite diverse and that there are no problems. In fact, 2012 saw 568 players in the league. Out of the 568 players, 183 are black, 379 are white, and eight of them are Asian (Sporting Intelligence, 2012). In 2016, out the total number of black players, 47 are African (BBC, 2016). What is concerning however, is the way in which some of these players may come to play for European leagues. This is because European leagues engage in “neocolonial exploitation” (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 144). Because Western nations are more powerful, they determine the rules regarding world trade (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 144). Due to this, they are able to take advantage of less powerful nations (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 144). Therefore, wealthy European soccer leagues are able to exploit the most talented African ones, as they are economically unstable in comparison (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 144). Therefore, this contributes to the “deskilling and underdevelopment” of these African clubs (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 144). This can also affect the development of professional African leagues, which could potentially be a reason for players not to go to Europe (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 155). Further, the style of play that these players engage in can become “de-Africanised,” if they are playing in Europe (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 155). It may also prove difficult to procure these players during major sporting events like the Olympics or the World Cup (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 155).
However, the players that do make it into European leagues receive far more monetary compensation than they would if they stayed at home (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 154). Even though African leagues are deskilled, going abroad can be of great benefit to players on an individual level. The excess money players may earn in Europe can be invested in African soccer programs (Darby, Akindes, & Kirwin, 2007, p. 154). For example, Emmanuel Abedayor has a net worth of $27 million and earns about $268,000 a week (Africa Ranking, 2016). His charity work includes setting up projects in Togo (Africa Ranking, 2016). Abedayor also founded the SEA Foundation, which is meant to implement welfare projects all across Africa (Africa Ranking, 2016).
Even though this exploitation occurs, it appears as though these European leagues only impart good for Africa and the rest is not as noticeable. This is because of this numerous ways in which FIFA maintains a presence in Africa and claims to help. For example, FIFA President Sepp Blatter had garnered much support among Africans; so much that most of its representatives had voted for him to be the President again (BBC, 2015). This is because FIFA has contributed to the development of soccer in football through creating soccer pitches, along with a new headquarters (BBC, 2015). They also offer various seminars regarding the sport (BBC, 2015).
At the end of 2015 however, FIFA’s ethics committee had suspended Blatter for eight years from his position as president (The Guardian, 2015). This was due to “corruption, mismanagement, false accounting, and non-cooperation with the ethics committee” (The Guardian, 2015). Though it appears that FIFA is assisting in less wealthy countries, corruption runs strong and was reflected in their President (The Guardian, 2015; Sporting Intelligence, 2012). As previously mentioned, Blatter also made comments on how racism in the game does not exist. However, his corrupt nature and the way in which players are exploited would make one think twice.
There have certainly been efforts to change the recruitment process for coaching and other authoritative positions in European soccer. We can also see that teams are capable of being quite diverse in terms of visible minorities. However, the outcome of the Rooney Rule is still yet to be seen as it has just been implemented. With the example of England’s team we can also see how governing institutions can have a hand in how many coloured players are representing the team. This is because they are the ones who ultimately benefit through their maintenance of the status quo of keeping whites power. Further, this is done through exploiting talent in less wealthy countries by being able to determine the rules for trade, and poaching African players as a result. This ultimately results in the deskilling of Africa’s leagues. At the forefront, European soccer seems as though it creates an environment of all inclusivity for different races. But by examining those who are at the top of the hierarchy that exists within the sport, it can be concluded that this is simply not the case. Though efforts are being made, it seems as though discrimination in these leagues will continue to exist as long as white privilege also remains.
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