FIFA implemented a more stringent punishment for racist behavior in July — doubling the minimum suspension from five to 10 games — and the governing body has shown that it will drop the hammer in high-stakes games.
On Monday, FIFA suspended Bahrain defender Sayed Baqer 10 games for making a slanted-eyes gesture toward a fan in Hong Kong following a World Cup qualifying game on Nov. 14.
Although Baqer was able to play in one more game on Nov. 19, a 0-0 tie with Iraq, Bahrain is still fighting for a chance to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Baqer’s absence could be critical.
Baqer’s objectionable behavior might have been missed if not for cameras capturing the teams walking off the field. Baqer was also fined 30,000 Swiss Francs, which is the equivalent of about $30,600.
After a tense week in, something to cheer for fans at Hong Kong Stadium. Hugely credible World Cup qualifying draw with Bahrain, marred slightly by an apparent racist gesture by Bahrain player at the end of the match #WCQ #HongKongProstests pic.twitter.com/u24ToT3iF7— Paul Ryding (@pjrydo) November 14, 2019
Racism has been a problem in soccer throughout the world, and social media and smartphones have allowed fans to see the extent of the behavior. However, much of the worst behavior has been from fans targeting black players. Kick It Out, an organization working to challenge discrimination, released statistics showing that acts of discrimination rose from 319 to 422 in the last year alone.
Incidents in Europe have been particularly public. The Manchester derby was marred earlier in December by fans throwing lighters and making racist gestures at Jesse Lingard and Fred. Cagliari fans harrassed Romelu Lukaku in September, and they have a history of racism toward other black players. One fan even sent racist messages on Instagram to Juan Jesus, which caused Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte to speak out against the scourge.
How does FIFA’s suspension compare to other leagues?
Calls for leagues to combat racism have grown in recent years, but FIFA’s response appears stronger than what other leagues have done. One notable example came from the 2017 World Series when Houston Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel made the exact same gesture.
After hitting a home run off Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish — perhaps with some aid? — Darvish made a slanted-eye gesture in the dugout that was caught on camera. This was directed at another player, not a fan, but MLB chose not to suspend Gurriel for Game 4 of the World Series. Instead, he was suspended five games to start the 2018 season — just over 3 percent of the regular season in fairly meaningless games.
Fortunately for everyone involved, the Dodgers won that game, but it still shows the league’s priorities about how much combatting racism matters. World Cup qualifiers vary in importance, but taking a player out of meaningful games speaks volumes.
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