We all make mistakes. In fact, as St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” There’s no better example of this adage in current sports news than Danish soccer club FC Copenhagen.
On August 30, the capital powerhouse sent an e-mail to supporters saying that fans with foreign (non-Danish sounding) names would be unable to purchase tickets in the home fans' seating area for upcoming Champions League matches. Almost a month has passed since the initial e-mail was sent and no movement has been made on the part of the club or the sport’s governing bodies to correct this act of bias. This is simply unacceptable.
While club officials insist that they are trying to solve a problem and that their intentions are pure, rejecting fan applications due to the apparent nationality of a name is certainly discrimination and many would go so far as to call it racism. The R-word is a huge problem in the world of soccer. The powers that be (FIFA, UEFA, etc.) are working to try and stamp out racial bias, but they focus the majority of their energy on incidents on the pitch and in the stands. While these acts are important to address, it’s equally important that the community also pay attention to off-pitch violations whose effects are more detrimental in the long term. Banning fans based on names is a very demonstrative example of this: It's racist and it only perpetuates racism throughout the game.
In Copenhagen’s weak (very weak) defense, this story has been reported with a bit of bias with vital information pushed to the end of more than a few articles. One such point is that according to Copenhagen Club Secretary Daniel Rommedahl, if fans with foreign names want to call the club and ask for tickets, they are more than welcome to do so. Unfortunately, he neglected to mention if that would actually do them any good. He was, however, quick to emphasize that the club is only thinking of the safety of the fans.
The last time a major European soccer event was staged in Copenhagen in 2000, supporters of English club Arsenal and Turkish club Galatasaray rioted in the center of the city, resulting in the stabbings of four people. Copenhagen feels that by banning foreign fans from the stands from the home section of the stadium, they’ll cut down on possible security risks and the overall experience will likely be better for everyone.
However, while Copenhagen might be cutting down on the risk of physical violence, a decision of this nature is extremely detrimental to supporter morale. Not every hardworking Copenhagen fan has a traditionally Danish last name. An organization that they might’ve supported since childhood has effectively classified these people as second-class. No matter how long they or their families have lived in Denmark, the club has made the unconscious suggestion that they’re not true Danes.
The world’s game is just that: the world’s game. It’s an international melting pot where people from all walks of life gather to enjoy one common bonding factor. Unfortunately, this diverse community provides the perfect breeding ground for racial bias, the majority of which is expressed in straightforward terms.
Incidents that occur in the stands or on the field are easy and straightforward to deal with. One party is intentionally trying to hurt the other by using race as a weapon. The Copenhagen case by comparison is on a different level, but detrimental and racist nonetheless.
If the world is truly committed to stamping racism out of soccer, it must do so by recognizing that bias comes in many forms and isn’t always as simple black and white. Angrily taking to Twitter or flying off the handle when reading a news story isn’t going to cut it. Banners and PA reads will only go so far. If we want to eliminate racism in all its forms from the world sport, it’s imperative those in power take initiative to eliminate racial bias not only from the pitch, but in the office as well. Soccer is a sport for all, not just those with the right kind of last name.