Holland, Portugal and Russia abandoned their traditional colors Wednesday night for their respective friendly matches against England, Ireland and Italy. The three national squads all donned the same black-and-white outfits, to highlight a growing commitment to kick racism out of football.
In marked contrast, that same evening at the Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem, Israel's Abbas Suan was severely abused by so-called fans as he came on in the national blue-and-white during the second half of the World Cup warm-up match against Croatia.
One of the problems with preparatory games is that they carry no true vengeance. But as we watched Holland and England go passionlessly through the motions at Villa Park, at least there was another major purpose served by the torpid, goalless draw. Beyond preparing their national teams for next month's world cup qualifiers, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Marco van Basten's squads were putting on a powerful show, a united declaration to silence the racist minority that has again been raising its ugly voice.
Apart from the Dutch shelving their traditional orange shirts, England's red jerseys bore an anti-racism slogan in silver on the front, while on their sleeves the players bore "Kick It Out" badges. In 133 years of international soccer, it was the first time that England players have displayed anything other than the national three lions badge and the manufacturer's logo.
Fans were asked to hold up an anti-racism placards during the playing of the national anthems.
Across Europe, many players have recently started wearing black-and-white wristbands with a "Stand up, Speak Up" message. That's the slogan instigated by Thierry Henry, the Arsenal and France striker to promote the anti-racism campaign, now gaining momentum with the backing of Henry's sponsor, Nike.
The Dutch FA called it "a big step for us to give up our national colors, but we feel strongly about this. We don't have this problem in Dutch football. Fans treat black and white players exactly the same. In other countries, however, our black players have been abused."
England's players have often been targets of vicious racial catcalls, most notably in Madrid during the previous World Cup warm-up match when Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Cole were targeted. Spain only reluctantly apologized.
When heads of the English FA were brought here a couple of months ago for a seminar about eliminating racism from soccer, they stressed the importance of first creating awareness of the problem. Naively, some of their Israeli hosts commented that "awareness is not so much of a problem here. People are aware. But the problem is bound up in the overall political conflict between Jews and Arabs."
But there isn't really awareness of how rampant and how acceptable racism has become. When the hapless Suan was being mercilessly jeered, Meir Einstein, commentator in the Channel 10 telecast, observed: "This is ugly. It shouldn't be happening," but then went on to say, "The fans can boo him when he's playing for Bnei Sakhnin, but they shouldn't now that he's playing in the national colors."
Wrong, Meir Einstein. The fans can jeer Suan but they are never entitled to denigrate his Arab identity. That is blatant racism, no matter for whom he is playing, no matter what the political circumstances.
Chants of "death to Arabs" and their ugly ilk have become all-too-accepted a part of Israel's soccer landscape.
The usually self-composed Suan, distraught by the ordeal, said, "I lost all confidence. It's impossible to play against chants like that. What's going on? After all, I'm playing for the Israeli national team. I repeat, for Israel's national team."