History books were rewritten after Del Bosque's men beat Italy 4-0 to win the Henry Delauney trophy for the second time in a row. Add the World Cup they pocketed in 2010 and Spain has 'passed' their way into record books. The Internet is replete with stories by pundits, waxing lyrical about Spain's triumph.
However, the 2012 Euro championship stands for excellent football more than anything else. There was drama, plenty of goals and some fine tactical acumen on display (read Spain's 4-6-0 formation) but one must also consider the pre-match fear that racist incidents, which marred the successful organization of the tournament.
Now that the tournament has ended, it is time to come to the revelation that our fears have been realized.Racism has become a rampant problem in professional sports.
'Show racism the Red Card' , an anti-racist charity that has been growing from 1995, now represented in the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Ireland, has compiled a list of incidents related to racism in EURO 2012.
One particular incident concerns Italy forward Mario Balotelli performed admirably at the European championship and scored arguably the best goal, a screamer against Germany but was the target of racism throughout the tournament. An Italian right wing party member posted an image to his Facebook page, which displayed a Photoshopped image of Mario bending down to collect cabbages in a field.
Needless to say, such a depiction is in bad taste and must be condemned. Meanwhile, UEFA fined the Russian and German football federations for racist conduct by their fans during the Euro 2012 tournament. There were also reports of Polish fans making monkey chants at the Netherlands team members. Czech Republic defender Gebre Selassie, whose father is Ethiopian, also said he was the target of racial abuse.
UEFA has admittedly taken a strict stand against racism and together with the players' body FIFPro, actively supports campaigns attempting to banish this evil from football and society. The ideal of UEFA must be noted in that it recognizes that football is not divorced from society and each influences and shapes the other.
In 2011, UEFA used its premier club competitions to make its stand against racism and celebrated ten years of its partnership with Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE). At all 40 UEFA club competition matches, teams were accompanied onto the pitch by children wearing United Against Racism T-shirts.
Team captains were also asked to wear United Against Racism armbands. These activities can be considered within the awareness paradigm. It is recognition of the fact that punishing isolated incidents of racism may have limited deterrent value. Further, unless there is change in the mindset of people, any effort will only be a patch on the wound, not a healing process
Let us consider UEFA's enforcement actions now. Recently, Croatia was fined less by UEFA for racist chants aimed at Mario Balotelli than Nicklas Bendtner was for displaying a sponsored pair of underwear. The difference in amount fines meted out in both instances does contain a level of ridiculous contrast. This raises the important issue of efficacy of imposing fines in the event a racism incident occurs.
If UEFA wants its fines to carry any deterrent value, they should be large fines. UEFA has tried to address the menace of racism at grass-roots level, using star footballers as ambassadors of the game, and involving football clubs to interact more with the fan base and society. Such actions should be encouraged and supplemented with our efforts, the fans' effort. In any society, laws can only prohibit conduct that offends the collective conscience.
But even within the framework of what we are allowed to do, people find leg room to engage in conducts that are either not illegal or go undetected. But what fans consider appropriate, or let's say not abnormal, during a game varies from culture to culture.
Fans in some countries or for that matter, different regions within the same country, consider hurtling abuses at a player, if he does not score to be perfectly fine. Similarly, if they see other fans engage in condemnable chants which go undetected and therefore unpunished, they tend to think they can get away with this too. This attitude is not based on the notions of right and wrong. Vulgar chants are wrong. But some take pleasure in doing such things, at the expense of decency and integrity.
Some might argue that a dismal picture of what is happening in football stadiums around the world has been depicted. However, it is only a reflection of what we hear on a daily basis. However, all hope is not lost. We control what we say or how we say things. It is in the hands of fans.
Football is a sport that needs to be cherished for what it is--a beautiful game. There is no need to tarnish its image by such avoidable incidents. Fans also need to understand that, in the end, it's just a game. Often, football has been the symbol for people's cultural, even political aspirations. We need to acknowledge that football has a more entertaining purpose. Football reminds us that we are capable of being supreme athletes with craft and vision, working a ball which is a work of art. This image has no stains, no mark of any discrimination, whatever the basis of such conduct may be.