The price of racism / Fine priorities
Imposing a truly painful financial punishment - and using those funds in the fight against racism - would be a good place to start.
If you thought that things only get more expensive over time - think again.
In 2007, the Football Federation of Serbia was fined 20,000 euros after its fans hurled racist abuse at members of the England team during the European Under-21 Championships. Since then, the fines dished out by UEFA for similar offenses have been, for the most part, lower. In April, for example, Portuguese team Porto was also fined 20,000 euros for racist chants aimed at Manchester City's Italian striker Mario Balotelli. Over the course of five years, the price of racism has remained steady.
What has increased, however, is the amount of money that soccer brings in: television broadcasts, advertising, UEFA special "partnerships" with international companies and sponsors who pay a fortune to see their names emblazed on players' shirts are all more important to UEFA, it seems, than anything else. So while a federation pays 20,000 euros if its fans are racially abusive, a player found guilty of violating UEFA's strict advertising rules - as Denmark's Nicklas Bendtner was, when he celebrated a goal by revealing that he was wearing underpants carrying the logo of a betting company - can expect to be fined five times that sum.
Former England defender Rio Ferdinand was among those who were stunned by the decision. "UEFA are you for real???" he asked on his Twitter feed. "All of the racism fines together don't even add up to that?!"
Bendtner clearly deserved to be punished. He knowingly and willfully violated the rule against displaying the logo of a company that is not approved by UEFA. That is perfectly legal and perfectly justified. (So, too, incidentally, is the decision by Israeli cable and satellite companies to black out foreign television stations showing the Euro 2012 games for free. )
But the 100,000-euro fine and one-game suspension from international games - the highest fine ever handed out to a player - raises serious questions about UEFA's priorities. What Bendtner did can only harm the pockets of the tournament's sponsors and, in any case, none of the official sponsors are a betting company.
When one compares his punishment to those meted out for racism, it is hard to avoid some painful conclusions about what is important to UEFA. Why did soccer authorities decide to make an example of him? "If racism made money for UEFA like advertising, do you think UEFA would take it as serious?" Ferdinand asked in a subsequent tweet.
Clearly, UEFA will not make as much money from fining countries for their fans' racist behavior, but there is no reason why it should not start fining them more significant sums. Imposing a truly painful financial punishment - and using those funds in the fight against racism - would be a good place to start.