Taison & Ukraine’s Racist Enablers

by | Nov 24, 2019

This week, Uefa fined Celtic €15,000 for their fans calling fascists fascists, which was set to be the crackpot decision of the football week. It would have been of any normal football week, especially when Lazio were fined €5,000 LESS for their fans BEING fascists. Then a Ukrainian clownstick entered the scene, metaphorically, and conceivably literally, saying “hold my beer.”

Igor Gryshchuk (pronounced “prick”) is secretary of the slightly sinister-sounding “control and disciplinary committee” of Ukraine’s Association of Football (UAF). And among his recent duties was defending a one-match ban given to Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian midfelder Taison. The punishment was for Taison’s reaction to racist abuse from Dynamo Kiev fans during Shakhtar’s 1-0 home win in the ‘Ukrainian derby,’ the ‘Klaschyne’ (Ukraine’s ‘clasico’), on 10th November. One of Taison’s many Brazilian colleagues at Shakhtar, Dentinho, was also racially abused.

Taison, reduced to “tears of helplessness” by the abuse, gestured to Dynamo’s fans and, after 77 minutes of abuse, booted the ball into the stands in the direction of said racist abusers. The referee took the teams off for five minutes, but on their return, showed Taison a red card for which, last Thursday, Taison received the aforementioned ban AND a two-match suspended suspension. This, obviously (to some), gave ideas and likely encouragement to any racists with a thought process. ‘If we can rile an opposition player and get them sent off…’ The UAF had other thought processes. And Gryshchuk, we discovered on Friday, had even worse ones.

He said “it was important to hold the player accountable for such behaviour because the gesture…was broadcast on TV.” No…really. “We understand that the player addressed it to the stalls only and to the fans who expressed certain emotions against him,” he continued, unwisely. “But those who watched the game on TV, including the children, could not perceive the gesture in a proper way.” Yes. Think of the children. What if THEY grow up believing it’s OK to be nasty to racists? And anyway, “this behaviour and reaction deserved a red card. The referee did the right thing when he used it, in our opinion.”

Gryshchuk even had the temerity to suggest that the UAF were lenient. “Regular punishment for such an action, for such gestures is a three-match ban.” he told those not already floored by incredulity. “But taking account all circumstances of the case, all mitigating circumstances, addressed by our colleagues from FIFPro” (the world players union) “and that this behaviour was provoked by fans’ racist chants, we used the mildest sanction.” FIFPro had said, correctly: “Sanctioning a victim of racial abuse is beyond comprehension and plays into the hands of those who promote this kind of disgraceful behaviour.” Gryshchuk “addressed” nothing of that.

There are side-issues here. I marvel at the over-sensitivity of football broadcasters to ‘offensive’ behaviour on football broadcasts, such as Gareth Bale’s brief lapse into Anglo-Saxon during his interview immediately after Wales reached the Euro 2020 finals with a 2-0 win over Hungary. I don’t know the football fan who doesn’t regularly hear far worse, far louder and at far greater length at games. And, for f**k’s sake, BBC Radio 4 even unapologetically broadcasts swearies on Radio 4’s brilliant ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ most weeks, a show repeated at noon on a SUNDAY, for God’s sake (sorry).

More seriously, the idea that players should be “held” more “accountable” for their actions because they were on telly contains its own “one law for some” dangers (even before mentioning VARs). It is one thing for on-field conduct to be sanctioned differently if revealed post-match as more, or less, serious. And some think even that is too close to “trial by television.” It is quite another for sanctions themselves to be based on the size, or age, of the audience, or their ability, or otherwise, to determine context.

But in ALL seriousness, the only offensive behaviour was that to which Taison reacted. And we must wonder what possessed the UAF to punish THAT and Gryshchuk to so vigorously defend it. Was it ‘jobsworth’ material, or more sinister? Because the UAF could have applied NO sanction and rescinded the red card (while exonerating the referee if he was applying the laws of the game or the ‘protocol’ for dealing with racist abuse; Dynamo fans were warned twice during the game). If they were really concerned about the message Taison sent, what better message, and what better way to say “no to racism” than to say “no to punishing anti-racism?” Especially to children.

Ukrainian police are searching for about 20 ‘fans’ and have begun criminal proceedings on allegations of “violation of citizens’ equality.” While Dynamo were fined £16,000 and will have to play one game behind closed doors. They will also be on probation until the end of the season. And after the slightly jarring note of their immediate post-match official statement’s reference to “hasty” allegations “of a predetermined guilt of the fans,” Dynamo declared their readiness to “take all possible steps” to “further isolate” any individuals “proven guilty” from (ulp!) “not only football but also from society.”

Hopefully, the Dutch football authorities will react more appropriately than the UAF to the more passive but equally attention-grabbing anti-racist protests from Excelsior and Volendam players on Friday night, when they stood in silent protest for the first minute of their second division match after Excelsior’s Ahmad Mendes Moreira was racially abused by Den Bosch fans last Sunday (twenty-four hours later, all top-two division teams followed suit, under the banner “Racism? Then we don’t play football.

The response of just about all others involved in Ukraine has been appropriate, including managers and players from both clubs and many of Taison’s Brazilian colleagues. And Taison’s emotive, forceful response on social media included one inescapable truth: “In a racist society, it is not enough not to be racist, we must be anti-racist! Football needs more respect, the world needs more respect!”

An inescapable truth that seems to have escaped the UAF and Igor Prick.