Standing Together: Racism in Dutch football

Featured in the Raumdeuter Online Magazine – Edition #24

Racism continues to occur with unacceptable regularity on the terraces around Europe and beyond, but after an incident in Dutch football the country’s top two leagues are taking a stand.

Ahmad Mendes Moreira, who is a black Dutch-born professional football currently playing for second division side Excelsior in the Netherlands, was subjected to racial abuse from the early minutes of his side’s clash with Den Bosch.

The 24-year-old winger was reportedly called a “negro and cotton-picker” by the opposition supporters and left the field of play over the abuse.

The referee brought the players off after half an hour as a result of the abuse from a section of the home fans, while Dutch football authorities have also opened an investigation after the incident.

After Den Bosch initially released a statement suggesting Moreira had mistook “crow sounds” – a common form of terrace chanting Den Bosch supporters take part in during matches – but quickly rescinded that suggestion and apologised to the player and Excelsior, acknowledging there had been racial abuse directed towards Moreira.

Throughout the Netherlands there was an outpouring of support for Moreira and disgust at the racist abuse. Many Dutch international footballers, including Lyon’s Memphis Depay and Liverpool star Georginio Wijnaldum condemned the abuse.

During the Netherlands’ 5-0 win over Estonia on Tuesday, two days after the incident, Wijnaldum and teammate Frenkie de Jong pointed to their skin after the Liverpool midfielder scored the first of his three goals on the night.

However, widespread condemnation has been the general reaction to these abhorrent incidents of racial abuse for some time now and they still continue to occur in the modern game. As such, there is real argument that more clear action is necessary – a show of force from the players, clubs and leagues involved to show their complete lack of tolerance for this kind of situation.

Across the Netherlands’ top two football divisions, which act as the upper, professional level of the country’s footballing pyramid, just such firm action is being taken.

As a show of the zero tolerance there is for racism in Dutch football, footballers in the Eredivisie and Eerste Divisie will not play during the first minute of their matches this weekend to draw attention to racism and the need to tackle the issue.

While players across the top two divisions remain standing still, scoreboards will display the message ‘Racism? Then we don’t play football’.

An extra minute will be added on to injury time in the first half of each game.

Praise must be given to the Dutch football authorities for the decision. Their plan of action is brilliant both in its boldness, and yet similarly in its simplicity.

The proposed action demonstrates a real showing of collective power and unity over the issue of racism across Dutch football’s professional scope, and outlines a clear threat to the minority of fans who appear to feel racially abusing a player is acceptable to any degree; if it continues, there will be no football.

Yet, despite the need for visual, powerful demonstration and condemnation, the decision also shows an intelligence from the authorities. The overwhelming majority of Dutch football supporters are not racists, nor would they ever consider racially abusing a player or fellow supporter, and so by balancing the first minute’s action with additional added time they are not penalising the innocent for the acts of the guilty.

Holding the protest in the first minute of the match makes a potent statement – football doesn’t begin until there is learning, reflection and understanding – so the message doesn’t lose any weight, whilst not negatively impacting any of the football given the same length of play will occur.

Racism is rearing its ugly head once more in football, particularly on the terraces, in recent months and we have a duty to lift their heads up and take note. As the Netherlands are proving, there is a way to make a clear statement of condemnation without blanket punishing all supporters.

That could well be the way forwards.

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