Fighting racism on the pitch and preparing for the reaction off.
We will start this blog by stating – Racism has no place in our society in any form: verbal, written, implied or thought.
As a practitioner working in crowded places, tasked with assisting in managing how crowds use the environment they occupy safely, we must pay attention when something is introduced to that environment that can change how the crowd will react. As we stated above, racism is brought into these stadium and sports environments. Recently at football we have seen a stance taken against racism, not in the stands, but on the pitch. If you are not aware of this, in short it is players reacting to racist abuse from other players.
In the modern game of football, the reaction of players is often viewed as exaggerated and often fake. Example – the tackled player acting as though limbs are broken when tackled, faking being hit in the face and rolling about the ground and in some cases performances that could win them an academy award. But, when we see a player react to what they say is racist abuse directed towards them from another player, we see a different type of reaction. What do we mean by this? We mean a reaction that in genuine; anger, frustration, pain, disappointment, disgust and so much more. A reaction to what they have suffered their entire life being brought to their place of work, flung at them by so called professionals.
It is sad to say that just like society as a whole, we see racist abuse raise its ugly head in football stadiums. Normally the focus is on “fans” directing this towards the player. We see campaigns that revamp every few years in an attempt to force this from the sport. Now though, we are seeing players react more to this abuse and no longer willing to put up with it.
Why are we talking about a subject that is so interwoven into communities and has not been banished to the darkest corners of history? What difference does this cause to us in stadiums, when there have been so many incidents in the past? The difference is the players.
In recent years we have seen players no longer willing to put up with this abuse. Mostly this has been as individuals and in the greater majority retrospectively via statements and media outlets. Occasionally this is vented in lashing out at players or the crowd. One person standing up to a massive problem. This is slowly changing though. We are seeing more incidents of their team members supporting them with the allegation of abuse. We have to say allegation, because unfortunately those that participate in this vile form of abuse do it one on one and avoid witnesses. Where video can catch out a poor acting job, audio at football games does not pick up the hateful speech directed towards another player. So what does this mean to us in crowded places?
Where we have seen football leagues globally play behind closed doors in the recent year, the crowd element has been removed (although there is no doubt it is still there). We have seen greater support online though when members of their team have been the victim of these hateful attacks. They are also calling out “fans” that use online forums to share their hateful thoughts and beliefs. We cannot be naive enough to believe that there are also those out there that agree with this hatred though
There are increasing incidents where players leave the field of play in protest and these players are being supported by team mates joining them. This means games are abandoned. Over this past year, this plays out on television and media outlets post match. As crowd practitioners we have to understand what impact will this have on us in crowded stadiums?
“Only time will tell if the situation improves. But it’s not improved over the last few years.”
We can only list a few of the thoughts that have gone through
- Initial confusion across the stadium and fans and workforce watch and try to figure out what is going on. Time where fans are watching what is going on the field, then watching to see if players are coming back out. This will not be instant, this will be over 10s of minutes.
- The stadium safety team trying to figure out what is going on but at the same time trying to prepare for the potential end of a game out with the times this would normally happen. Do they have plans for this? Is it the evacuation plan? Does an evacuation plan suit the needs of this form of match end?
- Confusion and frustration in many forms in the stands. In some cases there will be anger.
- Confusion: why has the game stopped and the players left the park, communication will be slow. When they are informed the game will not continue, there is a good chance this will not come with a reason. Then there will be the leaked social media messages that will be picked up in the stadium on mobile devices. Again this is can bring confusion, for some not believing this could happen, others in debate of this being real or “fake” news. Then those that do not see the big problem with this type of abuse.
- Frustration – why has this happened, this is my days entertainment? Why does this happen in our modern society? Why could they not just play on? What’s the big fuss, he/she needs to get over it? Just a few examples of people’s reactions.
- Anger – for some this will be towards the incident and that something so hateful still continues in this day and age. Others, that is has spoiled there day. We then have blame through association – the rival teams and rival fans. Blame of the group through association, even though they are all individuals within the groups.
We can only condemn this hatred and do our part to vanquish it from society. In this blog we are shining a light on a change in attitude on the field and players taking a stand against racism. We as safety providers have to adapt to the introduction of abrupt stoppages to a match that we may not initially understand. Our traditional methods of evacuation and dealing with conflict may not be fit for purpose and require adjustment. With crowds returning to stadiums, this would be the perfect time to do this.
Working With Crowds 5th April 2021
PFA says it would support players walking off pitch if they suffered racism
Carlo Ancelotti: Napoli ‘will stop playing’ if a player is subjected to racist chants