Referee Mark Clattenburg speaks with Chelsea's John Obi Mikel and  Manchester United's Patrice Evra after sending off Chelsea's Branislav Ivanovic during their English Premier League soccer match in London

Clattenburg, Chelsea, and English soccer’s weekly dalliance with race

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It’s easy to make light of another race controversy in English soccer, but you can only laugh at the same joke for so long. To the extent soccer is a reflection of a nation’s broader culture, soccer is showing the boomerang effects of England’s zero tolerance, no room for discussion approach. Racism is unacceptable, but how do you enforce any standard when you can’t agree what racism is? Luis Suárez’s (albeit malicious and excessive) use of a term accepted in South America? John Terry’s terrible context for the adjective ‘black’? Or whatever Mark Clattenburg is accused of saying to John Obi Mikel and Juan Mata on Sunday? England’s need to stop and recalibrate on a case-by-case basis shows both a lack of confidence and certainty. That Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand’s attempts to further the dialog were met with derision shows the ignorant externalities that have developed. No wonder this keeps happening.

England’s latest controversy centers on Clattenburg, arbiter of Sunday’s Chelsea-Manchester United affair. Chelsea have accused the match official of using “inappropriate language” toward two of their players, widely thought to be Mikel and Mata. What did he say? Who knows, but it’s assumed to be racial in nature, and despite publicly offering their full support of Clattenburg, the Professional Game Match Officials have withheld him from the upcoming weekend’s assignments. England’s Football Association has opened an investigation, and at least one opportunistically-adorned pundit has speculated Clattenburg may have called his last game.

We shouldn’t assume Clattenburg’s done, but we can consider the more general scenario. What would it mean if a referee racially abused a player? Obviously, the official should lose their job, having shown a type of deep-seated bias that would make it impossible to trust his more superficial in-game judgments. But that’s the least interesting of the implications. More importantly, such an incident would dispel the notion that this type of ignorance is a exclusively symptomatic of a player class characterized as insular, arrogant, uneducated, and entitled. Those qualities were supposed to be precipitants to player (and, in many cultures, fan) transgressions, but if officials are also capable of these mistakes, you can’t write them off to player arrogance.

Gerneralizing beyond individuals’ stupid decisions, there seem three possibilities regarding underlying causes. First, the competitive nature of high-level soccer compels people to fall back on their most base instincts – feelings shame and neglect leave unrefined by the light of fame and fortune. The Suárez and Clattenburg instances both came in highly-charged rivalry matches after provocation (Suárez in an altercation with Patrice Evra, Clattenburg in confrontations with Chelsea players). Just as alcohol tends to being out what lies beneath, perhaps competitive intensity does the same. When my emotions are high, I’ll resort to what I perceive to be my big, must hurtful guns.

There’s also the possibility that we’re just seeing a reflection of a soccer culture that’s always existed. This is almost certainly the case. With every iteration of this controversy we’re told this happens all the time, and we’d be shocked to know all the trash that’s thrown during a 90-minute match. It’s only the attention that’s paid to the modern game that brings these incidents to the forefront, we’re told, a contention that’s impossible to deny.

It would be a mistake, however, to consider this selective enforcement. Just because we didn’t hear about these incidents in the past doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have cared. And even if we didn’t, times chance. There’s clearly no current tolerance for this type of idiocy.

The final possibility is one England needs to come to grips with before these problems go away. While, as soccer fans, we’re used to the face to English soccer being the type of liberal erudition posted by the Guardian or inferred from a commentator’s posh tones, this is only one part of the English landscape. The broader section of English life is more likely to note these controversies and move on, if not (in the case of Terry) actually forgive him. Regardless, there is no discussion. There is no attempt to find a bridge between these views. There’s no national dialog (let alone identity) attached to this issue. it’s almost trite to note, butEngland has always had trouble coming to grips with the legacy of its empire. Soccer’s oblivious response to deeper-resting race issues is a symptom of England’s problematic psychology.

Every nation deals with issues of race, and while soccer brings England’s to the forefront, it’s a mistake to assume the nation’s approach is worse than other countries’. What makes the soccer problem so interesting is the inherent hypocrisy of England’s self-appointed role as the game’s moral authority. When Luis Súarez committed an intentional handball on the goal line against Ghana in World Cup 2010, it was England that led a disproportionately large and ridiculous response. On issues of diving, it’s England’s culture that appeals to a higher, inherent morality that should be imbued in each player. The nation has only two black coaches in its top four tiers and recently had a prominent coach equate the Rooney Rule with racism. That England can’t form a coherent, progressive approach to race but seeks to serve as a moral compass is ludicrous. They know we can see them, right?

The shock, awe and bewilderment we see from England whenever race meets sport reflects a society that hasn’t come to grips with something deeper. That Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand get derided for reminding people that a stance is nothing without action serves as a perfect reflection of their state of affairs. If Roberts and Ferdinand’s stances can cause controversy, England is still too far away from conveying the day-to-day, implicit messages that will curtail these problems.

FIFA disbands racism task force ahead of World Cup in Russia

PRATO, ITALY - APRIL 13: General view during the FIFA Futsal playoff match between Italy and Hungary on April 13, 2016 in Prato, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
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MANCHESTER, England (AP) FIFA has disbanded its anti-racism task force, declaring the work complete despite ongoing concerns about discriminatory behavior in 2018 World Cup host Russia.

FIFA wrote to members of the task force to say that it has “completely fulfilled its temporary mission” and “is hereby dissolved and no longer in operation.”

“I wish I could say that I am shocked by the decision, but unfortunately I am not,” task force member Osasu Obayiuwana told The Associated Press on Sunday. “The problem of racism in football remains a burning, very serious and topical one, which need continuous attention.

“I personally think there remained a lot of very serious work for the task force to have done – the 2018 World Cup in Russia being one such matter. But it is evident the FIFA administration takes a different position.”

The task force was established in 2013 by then-FIFA President Sepp Blatter and headed by Jeffrey Webb, a vice president of world soccer’s governing body until he was arrested in 2015 as part of the American investigation into soccer corruption.

Webb, who pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, was replaced exactly a year ago as task force chairman by Congolese federation president Constant Omari, who also sits on FIFA’s ruling council.

“We never had a single meeting under his chairmanship,” Obayiuwana said. “I wrote him, more than once, asking for when a meeting would be held. But I never received a reply from him.”

Obayiuwana, a journalist, broadcaster and qualified lawyer, received the letter from FIFA on Friday announcing the end of the task force.

“The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA,” wrote Gerd Dembowski, FIFA’s diversity and anti-discrimination manager.

“We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the task force’s recommendations have been implemented and all resulting projects are ongoing.”

FIFA pointed to the introduction of an anti-discrimination monitoring system at matches, the launch of a “Good Practice Guide ,” starting a team of footballing legends and a new diversity award. Fatma Samoura, FIFA’s first female and non-European secretary general, will present the award on Monday at the SoccerEx convention in Manchester.

FIFA also told task force members that its own initiatives “actually exceed the working group’s recommendations” – trumpeting its “Say No to Racism” campaign, women’s leadership conferences and programs in Russia. There are less than nine months until Russia stages the Confederations Cup, the warm-up event for the 2018 World Cup.

The most recent research from the Moscow-based SOVA Center and the UEFA-affiliated FARE Network reported a surge in the number of racist displays by Russian soccer fans, with most cases going unpunished. Researchers logged 92 incidents of discriminatory displays and chants by Russian fans in and around stadiums in the 2014-15 season, against a total of 83 for the previous two seasons put together.

Rob Harris can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

MLS Snapshot: Columbus Crew 2-0 New England Revolution (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): It was mostly the Crew from start to finish, and Ola Kamara’s brace helped ensure Greg Berhalter’s side that the team will remain in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. While the other Kamara — Kei — and his Revolution teammates were largely limited for chances on the evening, the Crew backline did an admirable job to prevent their opposition from testing them. For the Crew, it was the team’s first shutout since the two sides last met on August 20, ironically also a 2-0 victory for Berhalter’s group.

[ MORE: David Villa discusses MLS playoffs, Guardiola and more ]

Three moments that mattered

42′ – Ola smashes one past the Revs on the stroke of halftime — The Crew attack has sputtered a lot in 2016, but Ola Kamara continues to keep the team’s bleak playoff hopes intact.

67′ — Afful’s effort smacks against the post, stays out — The Crew attacked and attacked and attacked some more. Harrison Afful was definitely a bit unlucky that this chance didn’t end up in Brad Knighton’s goal.

84′ — Questionable penalty seals the points — It looked a bit soft to be given, but Kamara makes no mistake with the finish.

 

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Ola Kamara

Goalscorers: Ola Kamara (42′, 84)

Watch: Dario Benedetto scores audacious blast for Boca Juniors

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When there’s little support up the field, what should you do?

Just ask, Dario Benedetto.

The Boca Juniors man broke Sunday’s 4-1 win over Quilmes wide open after a quarter hour when Benedetto smashed a 40-yard attempt into the back of the net, leaving the opposing keeper speechless.

The 26-year-old did just about everything right on the day, as Benedetto finished off the match with a hat-trick before halftime.

Serie A roundup: Torino knocks off Roma, Fiorentina-AC Milan finish scoreless

TURIN, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Andrea Belotti (L) of Torino and Federico Fazio of Roma compete for the ball during the Serie A match between FC Torino and AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico di Torino on September 25, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Tullio M. Puglia/Getty Images)
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Joe Hart and Torino earned a 3-1 win over Roma on Sunday after two second-half finishes from Iago Falqué separated the hosts from the Giallorossi. Andrea Belotti struck for Torino after just eight minutes to give Siniša Mihajlović’s men the early lead. Meanwhile, Francesco Totti attempted to get Roma back in the match after halftime as the veteran striker converted from the penalty spot with 35 minutes remaining. For Totti, the goal marked his 250th in Serie A with Roma.

[ MORE: Schalke misery continues, Leipzig earns road point ]

Fiorentina drew AC Milan, 0-0, as the latter managed just one shot on target throughout the afternoon. Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was forced into five saves on the day, however, the Viola couldn’t find a way to break through the Milan backline.

Goals from Mattia Destro and Ivan Perisic cancelled out as Bologna picked up a point on the road against Inter Milan. Frank de Boer’s Inter currently sit third in Serie A, trailing only Juventus and Napoli, while holds the seventh spot.

Despite going down to nine men in the second half, Genoa managed a 1-1 draw against Pescara on Sunday afternoon. Giovanni Simeone’s opener gave the hosts the advantage just two minutes after the halftime whistle, however, Rey Manaj tapped in from close range in the 85th minute to secure a point for Pescara.

A pair of finishes from Balde Diao Keita and Senad Lulic helped hand Lazio a 2-0 win over Empoli to propel the Biancocelesti to fifth place in Serie A. The defeat leaves Empoli in the relegation zone through six matches.

Gregoire Defrel lifted Sassuolo past Udinese, 1-0, after knocking home the game’s lone finish in the 34th minute. Udinese fought until the very last minute, nearly finding an equalizer in the 90th minute when Felipe’s header struck the cross bar.