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THE SPECTRE of racism has reared its ugly head again, marring what has up to now been an engrossing Euro 2012 soccer tournament hosted by Poland and Ukraine – the biggest sporting event in eastern Europe since the collapse of communism.
The sport controlling body in Europe, Uefa, has up to now been limp-wristed in dealing with cases of racism by supporters. What has generally been an engaging tournament on the field of play has suffered from a few dark moments off it, including fan violence and racism.
Racism again cast a shadow over the tournament this week, providing an unwelcome distraction from the soccer.
Mario Balotelli, a black Italian player, found himself at the centre of a new race row, sparked by a deeply offensive cartoon depicting him as King Kong in a leading Italian newspaper.
The drawing shows the international of Ghanaian descent atop Big Ben swatting away footballs in the same way King Kong did aircraft atop New York’s Empire State Building in the film. It was published on Sunday, the day Italy played a quarter-final against England.
The cartoon “was meant to positively show Balotelli as a giant of the game”, but it backfired – badly.
The newspaper tried to get out of it: “It wasn’t our cartoonist’s best product. In these times we need a bit more moderation, caution and good taste. But we have always fought against racism and condemned booing against Balotelli as unacceptable...” said the Milan-based newspaper.
But the fact that they decided to publish such an obviously insulting cartoon in the first place shows there is no honour to their explanation. It rings hollow.
The issue of racism was raised well before the tournament kicked off earlier this month and promises were made that this would not be tolerated. So far, this has regrettably come to nought.
The racism by the Euro fans, and the latest cartoon fiasco, has brought shame to the sport that is supposed to unite nations, and world football controlling body Fifa’s “Respect Diversity” campaign has failed dismally in a part of the world supposedly civilised and moving with the times.
It now falls to Fifa – and Uefa – to move speedily with actions to stamp out this ugly mole before the entire footballing world is brought into disrepute.