Champions League soccer is back on today, and English side Manchester City traveled to Russia to play CSKA Moscow. City won, 2-1. City have the better team, so the result itself isn't shocking. But going to Russia to play soccer sucks. It's far. It's cold. The environment is oppressive. CSKA are actually really, really good. So even though City are better, both teams struggled on that cold, hard pitch for 90 minutes. It was a tense match, and an enjoyable one, too, until the unmistakeable sound of monkey noises started to rain down on City's star midfielder Yaya Touré.
Let's not get into all the obvious evils of racism, or the stunning cognitive gymnastics the CSKA faithful displayed to taunt Touré even as their team fielded two black strikers. (A couple of the Good Ones, obviously.) And at this point, it'd be overkill to point out how Russia seems to hate everything and is a sad laughingstock in the world of sports.
Because we're on the clock. Not only are the Winter Olympics being held in Sochi in less than four short months, but Moscow will host the 2018 World Cup. At this point, the question isn't why or how racism exists, or why it rears its head so publicly, so brazenly, so consistently, in soccer. The question is what can be done to eradicate it from the game.
On the surface, there's not a whole lot that can be done. FIFA really sucks, but one thing the sport's governing body does right is their "Say No To Racism" campaign. Anyone who's watched soccer recently has seen the slogan displayed around the pitch, or stretched on placards before both teams, whose players join together for a photo op before the kickoff. It's part of a campaign to make it clear that hurling slurs and chucking bananas isn't acceptable.
But clearly, that's not enough. After all, it takes a combination of great seating and great opportunity to get close enough to a player in a loud stadium to have your insults heard. The problem isn't individuals; they can be identified, arrested, banned with relative ease. The problem is that hordes of onlookers are collaborating to spew hatred. They're singing songs. They're making monkey noises. They're being heard.
Removing racism from soccer isn't simple surgery. It's more complicated than removing the choice cretins, because entire gangs of ultras are allowed to enter and sit in the stadiums. (Could you imagine the Klan reserving a cheering section in Wrigley Field?) A slap on the wrist, like a fine against the club, won't work because fans don't care. You have to cripple these motherfuckers, hit them where they'll feel it most.
You have to separate the fans from the clubs they love. To do this would hurt the clubs themselves, many of which aren't racist, employ players of color, and interact with them everyday. Still, they'll have to pay for their fans sins. Teams have been forced to play in empty stadiums before, and that's one way. But there are other options, too. FIFA came forward in May with stricter regulations, saying that clubs could have points deducted, or even be relegated and ousted from competitions. If used, these tools will force clubs to act quickly and forcefully to stamp out hatred. The racists will pipe down, and along the way, actual racism may diminish, in a small but meaningful way.
It'll be interesting to see what FIFA and UEFA decide to do here, to see if and how they punish CSKA Moscow and the select bigots who support the side. We'll finally know if an incident as public as this is constitutes too much racism, or not quite enough.