Glen Kamara: UEFA’s Missed Opportunity Over Anti-Racism
Plenty. But not enough.
I ended my recent article on the racist abuse of Rangers’ Glen Kamara by Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela with the following:
The treatment of the racist abuse directed at Kamara is the key issue. And it is time for Uefa to “say what you see.” To avoid getting mired in superfluous legal technicalities which deny justice. To deliver (a) deterrent punishment.
As Kamara himself said: “The vile racist abuse by Ondrej Kudela took place on the international stage and any failure to act by Uefa will be viewed as a green light for racism.” It is time, therefore, for Uefa, through their due processes, to “take a stand” against racism in the game they govern.
Uefa cannot be factually accused of a ”failure to act.” Indeed, they have acted on every incident during and after Slavia’s Europa League win at Ibrox on which investigation and action was requested. And the sort of opprobrium they have received from all angles usually indicates a job properly done. However, it is difficult to portray their actions as “a stand” against racism. And it is impossible, for reasons within and outwith their control, to portray them as an effective stand.
During the 18th March game, Kamara was visibly distressed by words whispered in his ear by a mouth-covering Kudela. And he reportedly responded physically in the players’ tunnel. A war of words began within hours. Rangers managing director Stewart Robertson insisted the club would ignore “any attempt to defend, deflect or deny the abuse.” And this resolve was sorely tested by Slavia’s claims that they were “being smeared without a single piece of evidence” and that Kudela suffered a “brutal assault,” a “prepared and deliberate act which included covering cameras on the site of the incident.” Police were also reportedly contacted by both clubs.
On 6th April, after an initial investigation by “a Uefa Ethics and Disciplinary Inspector,” Kudela was “provisionally” suspended for Slavia’s next EL game, on 8th April at Arsenal, as he (inadvertently?) admitted to the charge of “insulting an opponent” when claimed he called Kamara the ridiculous-sounding phrase “a fucking guy.” The Press Association news agency reported Slavia claims that the Inspector could not “confirm or contradict” Kamara’s account of the incident “in the absence of compelling evidence” on “the context” of Kudela’s remarks.
Kamara’s lawyer, Aamer Anwar, moaned that Kudela’s suspension for the Arsenal trip denied Police Scotland the chance to question him “with regard to their criminal investigation against him,” But he “understood” that they had “a sufficiency of evidence to proceed with charges against him, without the need to speak to him.” And, claiming that the initial investigation made “damning reading about Kudela’s conduct,” he said Slavia’s defence “could only be described as incredible or fantasy” (like their defence against Arsenal this week).
He slammed the ban for other reasons, too, forgetting that it was not for racist behaviour. It did “little to instil confidence in Uefa being serious about stamping out racism in football. ”It would “make no difference to Kudela or Slavia, who were already claiming he was too ill to travel to Arsenal” (maybe because Anwar had said, out loud, that police would question him if he did). It “(smacked) of ‘tokenism’,” giving “little confidence to black players who face such vile abuse.” And if Uefa was “genuine about tackling racism, he should be banned for at least a year.”
Kudela’s suspension wasn’t one match for long. On Wednesday afternoon, Uefa announced that after the Inspector’s full investigation, their “Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body” had suspended Kudela “for the next ten Uefa club and representative team competitions for which he would otherwise be eligible to play, for racist behaviour” (which means he can’t play at the Euros). And they suspended Kamara “for three Uefa club competition matches…for assaulting another player” (which means he CAN play at the Euros). The assaulted player was un-named but universally assumed to be Kudela.
Kudela was reportedly “startled,” although he would say that, wouldn’t he? So he was likely startled too by Slavia chairman Jaroslav Tvrdik’s “respect” for the decision, given Slavia’s previously supportive stance. Tvrdik said Kudela “should not have approached” Kamara. He offered regret and apologies to Kamara for “clearly” causing “distress to him and his team-mates.” And he pledged “positive steps to prevent such a situation from happening in our club ever again.”
Rangers said his ban “vindicates Kamara’s evidence” and “underlines the severity of the comment.” And counter-discrimination network Fare hoped the sanction would be a “marker for others to follow” and “would give Glen Kamara and all who campaign against discrimination and inequality in football a sense of justice.” Especially as many “high-profile cases” involving player-on-player abuse had “led to no action by national football associations.”
But these were the only good reviews Uefa got. Even Rangers said they would appeal the “severe” ban for Kamara (a description they also applied, less convincingly, to striker Kemar Roofe’s four-match ban, for his studs-up, in-game assault which fractured Slavia keeper Ondrej Kolar’s skull). Although Anwar noted that he had successfully “appealed a five-match ban for Kamara.
And, under Uefa’s own rules, ten games is literally ‘the least they could do.’ Anwar said Kudela could have been banned for “at least ten matches or a specified period of time.” Uefa “should have made use of (this) significant discretion to send a far stronger message that this type of abhorrent conduct will not be tolerated on a football field.” This “once again made a mockery of their claims that they want to kick racism out of football.” And, on Glasgow’s Radio Clyde, Anwar called for “a minimum year-long ban rather than a ‘tokenistic’ ten-match ban.”
Slavia also inferred “that my client Glen was a liar.” Their fans had daily “subjected (him) to horrendous racism.” And this, in turn, incited them to subject Anwar to horrendous racism, such as “dead pakistani, good pakistani”; “your subhuman cringe lawyer can go fuck himself, better not come to Prague or we will piss into his mouth.” Anwar was also ‘encouraged’ not to “bother Czech people with this monkey business.” He tweeted this “horrific snapshot of racist abuse I’ve received in 24 hours from some Slavia fans” (including one Martini Vaio, Twitter, if you’re interested) but stressed it was “but a fraction” of what Kamara had.
And there was the open (sewer of a) letter to Uefa’s “Disciplinary Board,” from the head of the “Office of the President of the (Czech) Republic,” Vratislav Mynar, who barfed, falsely that Kudela’s ban, for “unproven and alleged racism,” was “unprecedented for a player who did not harm anyone and only verbally offended his opponent. You condemn a decent person without a single piece of evidence (and) make it impossible (for him) to fulfil his dream in the Europa League.”
Then…hysteria: “In your submission, the fight against racism has become the fight of the unsuccessful against the successful, the pinnacle of hypocrisy and positive discrimination. Your efforts can lead to a person with a skin colour other than black being discriminated against and oppressed.” All “just to fulfil the perverted expectations of a small group of activists and a club unable to win on the field.” OK, I made that last bit up…oh…wait…I didn’t.
“I also consider it necessary to oppose this procedure,” Mynar continued, because the President, Milos Zeman, was “acquainted with the situation in detail” and thought it important, not only for “sport” but also for “justice and human dignity.” That read as if the president’s office was appealing the decision.
And Mynar continued, menacingly: “Although you are not used to it, let me tell you. The Czech public does not agree with your verdict. Even if only for a short time, you have managed to unite ancient rivals.” And he concluded: “We will not kneel before you.” Indeed, when Arsenal took the knee on Thursday, Slavia stood motionless. Like when Arsenal ran lanes through them during the game. Hilariously, in the circumstances.
BBC Radio’s Mark Chapman, Dion Dublin, Stephen Warnock, John Murray and Ian Dennis are among my favourite broadcasters. And if they wrote an open letter to Uefa, it would have polar-opposed Mynar’s. As they met for Liverpool and Manchester City’s Champions League games on Wednesday, Chapman said “the reaction here” was “anger and bemusement” and called football authorities’ anti-racism lip service “sickening and pathetic.” Dublin concurred: “Pathetic is a very good word for it.” This sounded like a reaction to what they thought Uefa would do, not what Uefa did.
But Dublin said much more. And the virulence of his comments are an indication of how anti-racism in football might turn, if pathetic continues to be a very good word for it. He often seems like the nicest man on the planet, on BBC football shows. And I can’t comment on his demeanour on ‘Homes Under The Hammer’ as I am a proud non-viewer. But I can’t imagine him telling Martin Roberts or Martel Maxwell (names I had to look up…honest) “If I chin someone for calling me a black name, I’m either going to kill him or knock him out. 100%,” as he told Chapman on Wednesday.
And if Dublin feels comfortable saying THAT on national radio, I shudder to think what more vocally aggressive anti-racism campaigners might be moved to, let alone the more physically aggressive. As Dublin noted: “Someone’s going to take matters into their own hands and someone’s going to get hurt.” And, as Chapman replied, “that’s why Kamara got a three-match ban.”
Warnock’s slightly mis-spoken solution, “throwing a book at this person,” brought to mind a “Rothmans Football Yearbook” hurtling towards a racist’s thick skull. But he pertinently referenced Valencia walking off the pitch when Mouctar Diakhaby was racially abused during a Spanish top-flight match two weeks ago. Valencia returned, after Diakhaby told coach, Javi Gracia, that “he was not OK to play” but “understood that we would play to avoid any punishment.”
Reports suggested that Valencia would be deducted points for not returning. And an exasperated Warnock asked: “If you walk off the pitch, you’re forfeiting the game. Why? Why is it so important to continue this game when there’s such a bigger matter at hand?”
So, Dublin’s frustration was understandable. Echoing Chapman’s complaint that “football authorities think ‘stick a badge on a sleeve, get players warming up in a t-shirt and we’ve done our bit’,” Dublin explained: “I played for 22 years as a pro. I don’t know how many times I had to wear a t-shirt that said stop racism and kick racism out. How can it keep happening? I retired 12 years ago and it’s still happening. Thirty-four years of nothing.” And all agreed with Chapman that “its commercial ahead of everything else.” Warnock dismissed clubs’ social media boycotts because “they come off it for a week and the commercial people suddenly go ‘we’re losing money here.’”
“Find a backbone,” Dublin implored. “Find somebody (with one) and put them at the top of the tree. And I’m not talking about a black person or an Asian person, I don’t care who they are. Put somebody in charge who’s going to make the rules that make a difference.” Unfortunately, Chapman’s example of backbone was “if all British clubs went ‘stuff you Uefa, we’re not going to play in your competitions next year.’” And Murray had to remind the conversation that “we in this country have to get our house in order first of all,” lest the idea of British moral supremacy take unwarranted hold.
‘Chappers’ also said the “problem” was “the people who make the rules are elected by member countries” so “don’t want to annoy” those countries. “That’s the problem, in a nutshell,” Warnock agreed, alarmingly. Of course, democracy is “the problem” for certain types. But I don’t believe either Chapman or Warnock are those types. But very few of those (of us) recommending draconian action on racism are. This issue has made illiberals out of even the most liberal of us. And it even had me, a childhood Spurs fan, cheering four unanswered Arsenal goals last Thursday.
Wednesday’s radio debate was not an occasion for exploring nuances. The irony of Rangers leading social media boycotts when their fans are leading anti-Irish racists on social media (and generally). Uefa’s decision being pilloried before the written reasons for it are published. The fact that Kudela’s ban could be the year, and more, sought by Anwar, if Slavia’s first half against Arsenal is a guide. And the obvious yet overlooked fact that Uefa only have sanctioning jurisdiction over Uefa competitions. But the “anger and bemusement” at Uefa was justified.
The story continues. On Thursday, Police Scotland said they had referred both players to the Procurator Fiscal, Scotland’s prosecution service; Kudela for “racially aggravated behaviour,” Kamara over assault allegations. And Anwar said a guilty Kudela could be imprisoned for six months.
But this potential path to justice lets Uefa off no hooks. They could have delivered a “deterrent punishment.” And ‘taken a stand’ against racism.” They didn’t fail to act but they failed to act properly. Which means the next racist incident, and the reactions Dublin fears, will not be far away.