Thierry Henry has spoken about his reasons for turning his back on European soccer and moving to the US. Henry could have taken his pick of many European clubs.
As a result, some have charged that his move to the USA is motivated merely by dollars.
However, the Arsenal legend gave a revealing interview with Fox NY which casts a different light on the transfer. Henry highlighted the problem of racism in European football as a reason for his Stateside move.
“In Europe it’s crazy. Unfortunately in Europe, it’s a reflection on society…If you are from another religion, or another country or a different colour then you can hear some bad stuff…I never heard any bad stuff about racism happening in the US.”
Although he was careful to add that racism wasn’t the reason for his move to New York, it is apparent that it was a factor.
However, the evidence suggests that racism is a very real problem in other parts of the continent, including some of Europe’s top leagues. In Italy’s Serie A, Inter Milan star Mario Balotelli has been a particular target and Juventus were fined and forced to play a match behind closed doors due to their fans’ treatment of the striker.
Nevertheless, such punishment is rare. Ivorian Marc Zoro threatened to walk off the pitch following abuse from Inter Milan fans, and while the president of Lazio apologized to Zoro after a similar incident, the footballing authorities sat on their hands, hoping that the apology would suffice.
Spain has possibly the most alarming racism problem in European football. While enjoying a successful career with Barcelona, Samuel Eto’o became a regular target of the bigots. The Cameroon striker almost walked off the pitch after a particularly hateful experience against Real Zaragoza , whose fans had previously targeted other black players. The Spanish football association fined Zaragoza a derisory £400 on both occasions.
When England played a friendly in Madrid in November 2004, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were subjected to choruses of monkey noises.
Such was the insult in England that even Tony Blair commented on the affair. UEFA saw it fit to simply fine the Spanish football association 100,000 Swiss dollars and declare the case closed.
Spanish racism is virulent and largely unchallenged by politicians . In the past Spanish Grand Prix fans considered it funny to ‘black up’ at a formula one practice session with banners reading “Hamilton’s family,” directed at black British driver Lewis Hamilton.
Most Spaniards apparently saw no problem in this behaviour, viewing it merely as a bit of fun.
But asking players to wear T-shirts or ensuring that advertising boards declare the official anti-racist position of European football’s governing body is mere lip service. Until UEFA and national football associations get tough with racism it will remain a problem.
Paltry fines are not enough, clubs must be docked points or banned from competition in order for offending fans to understand the seriousness of the situation.