Serbia faces possible two-year ban, but will it stop racist fans?
FA threatens boycott of Serbia as calls for international suspension gather pace
AFTER the disgraceful scenes in Serbia on Tuesday night, when England's Under 21 footballers were subjected to racist abuse, pelted with missiles and became embroiled in a mass brawl after a Euro 2013 qualifying match, there have been calls for Serbia to be kicked out of international football.
Both Serbia and England are facing Uefa charges after the debacle, and a war of words has erupted between the two nations. The Serbian FA categorically denied allegations of racism and described Danny Rose (above left), the player at the centre of the fracas who was subjected to monkey chants and was sent off after a scuffle at full time, as "vulgar".
The FA responded by suggesting that it would boycott Serbia. "No football team should be asked to play in any environment where racial abuse, violence and threatening behaviour is prevalent," it said.
Certainly there is widespread shock over the events in the town of Krusevac, south of Belgrade. "It strayed as close to any recent game has come to a lynching," said Paul Hayward of The Daily Telegraph. In an open letter to Uefa president Michel Platini, he asked: "Are you willing to tolerate this? Do you really believe enlightenment is on the march in European football?
"Federations will act only when they have something big to lose. Points deductions and suspensions from competitions are now unavoidable."
The Sun was outraged by the episode, but said it expected Uefa to "bottle the battle against racism" and described the decision to bring charges against England as well as Serbia as "idiotic".
Serbia's fate will be decided by 16 Uefa officials. "Surprisingly, regrettably, there is not a black face among them," said the paper. "Some of the members of Uefa's executive committee come from countries with terrible records on the issue, like Bulgaria and Spain."
Although the Serbian FA [FSS] has dismissed the allegations, some Serbians believe that it is time to accept responsibility.
"Having in mind how the fans behaved and that our young footballers physically attacked the Englishmen at the end of the match, it is probably best for Serbia that as of today we are watching football on TV only," said the tabloid Blic.
It and another paper, Novosti, predict that Serbia faces a two-year ban from international tournaments.
Whether such punishment will have the desired effect is a moot point. "Even a ban from international soccer may not prove enough to rid Serbia of its perennial problems with racism and hooliganism, such is the deep-rooted intolerance among fans," said Reuters.
So where does the hatred come from? "The roots of the thuggery run deep into Serbia's bellicose past and seem unbeatable against a backdrop of indignant patriotic fervour and high youth unemployment, where team and national allegiance mean everything," reports The Times. "Nationalist Serb hooligans believe that they are part of a glorious fighting tradition."
Like several other commenters, the paper points out that the latest outrage comes during the war crimes trial of Bosnian Serb commander Radovan Karadzic, accused of genocide during the 1990s.
The Serbian football authorities are in a "hugely difficult position" says Jonathan Wilson in The Guardian. "Hooliganism, corruption, organised crime and match-fixing haunt Serbian football."
How the Serbian FA responds should determine the punishment, says Wilson. "If the FSS refuses to act decisively, refuses to recognise the severity of the allegations, refuses to do what it can within its admitted limited power, it becomes complicit. And if that is the case, then a points deduction or a ban may be the only solution left."
We should actually be "grateful" to the Serbian fans, says Independent columnist John Walsh, for reminding us of what real prejudice looks like.
"It was oddly bracing to watch and listen to their display of hatred because the world is filled with so many claims and counter-claims of racism, we can no longer, with any confidence, identify it," he wrote.
"Sometimes, as this week, we can see racism in plain view, and feel a righteous loathing for the ignorant scum who shout the insults and utter the chants."