What can soccer learn from the NBA’s stance on racism?


When NBA Commissioner Adam Silver banned LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling for life from the league on Tuesday, and fined him $2.5 million, the entire sporting world sat up and took notice.

Acts of racism are now being treated with the severity they deserve. At least in one sport.

Soccer’s governing bodies, specifically UEFA and FIFA, please stand up and take notice of the NBA’s zero tolerance approach towards racism.

The big difference here is that, of course, none of the owners of soccer have acted in the way Sterling has. Plenty of soccer fans have though. Yet the fact that so many different governing bodies hold power across the sport means that FIFA doesn’t have the kind of power the NBA does. Plus the issue we are talking about here is trying to eradicate the beliefs of a large number of people across the globe, not one NBA owner.

That said, the heavy sanctions the NBA have placed against Sterling needs to be replicated by FIFA.

In the last 10 years alleged and proven racist abuse has come from fans of Zenit St. Petersburg, the Spanish national team, Juventus, CSKA Moscow and many others. Those are just some of the high profile cases. Sadly, the list goes on and on and many of the teams involved are from similar regions and in some cases the same clubs continue to be involved.

(WATCH: Dani Alves’ perfectly-dismissive reaction to racist banana toss)

Soccer’s problems with racism seem to be more widespread and deep-rooted than in the NBA, as we could rattle off a whole list of deplorable acts of racism from clubs across the planet. Although Europe, time and again, seems to be the hub of racist abuse towards players.

Earlier this week in Spain, Barcelona’s Brazilian defender Dani Alves was taking a corner kick away at Villareal’s El Madrigal Stadium. As he lined up to whip the corner in, a banana was thrown on the pitch which landed right next to Alves. To try and diffuse the situation, Alves picked the banana up and ate it. It has been revealed that Barcelona’s Brazilian teammates Alves and Neymar have been planning this reaction for a while after yet another racist incident back in March.

Players, managers, owners and governors across the soccer world have since been pictured eating bananas in order to try and ridicule the idiotic fan who has since been banned for life by Villareal and send the message to the world. Racism in soccer must stop. Now.

Earlier this week Barcelona’s Dani Alves had a banana thrown at him during a game in Spain by a racist fan.

In the past the Premier League has been plagued by allegations of racism, with both John Terry and Luis Suarez embroiled in lengthy investigations into apparent racist abuse on the pitch. In recent years England has cleaned up its act, with the ‘kick racism out of football’ campaign helping to almost eradicate it from the game. Yet in the 70s and 80s there was widespread problems with monkey chants, bananas being thrown on the pitch at black players and other awful acts of racist abuse.

Elsewhere in Europe, they’re now going through the issues England had 20-30 years ago. In 2012 Zenit’s fans posted an open letter against black and gay players playing for the club as “the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition.” There are numerous instances of racist abuse among Russian and Eastern European clubs who have been fined, had their entire, or sections of, their stadiums closed and other sanctions placed against them.

Is that enough?

I don’t think so.

My suggestion to stop the sickening racism, and discrimination of any kind for that matter:

  • Hand out instant bans, no fines, and stop teams from competing in domestic and European competitions if their fans are found guilty.

If this comes into action, the fans in question will soon halt their absurd stance of thinking racist abuse is okay if they no longer have a team to support as a consequence. If they don’t, the team is not worth having in the global soccer community. Yes, you can blame other cultural and social issues in certain parts of the world for racist attitudes, but why should behavior that is somehow deemed acceptable outside the soccer stadium suddenly become acceptable inside it? That punishment I outlined is harsh and swift, as many would prefer hefty fans before any ban is put in place. Fines have not been working. The issue continues to plague soccer.

I believe instant bans is the only way racism can truly be removed from the world’s most popular sport. What else can you do?

Hearing directors and owners waffling on about “the right steps being taken” to stop racism has gone on for years and that kind of talk got old a long time ago. Fines do not work and partial stadium closures are not useful. Lengthy bans to teams found to have racist supporters is the only way. That is where the Sterling situation differs from soccer, as that was one influential individual who will now no longer being involved in the game. The soccer authorities have to target billions of fans but there needs to be a charge from the top to stop racism in soccer. Fans of the NBA and other members of the pro basketball community in the USA now know the repercussions for being a racist. The soccer world still doesn’t know how it will be punished, although the only certainty is that the sanctions will be nowhere near as tough as the NBA’s.

Enough is enough, the time has come for soccer’s governing bodies, and its global community of fans, players and administrators, to stand up to the racists with affirmative and swift action.

The NBA has led the way. Can soccer act in a similar stirring and admirable fashion?

Agent: Liverpool contacted Klopp only after Rodgers firing

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp arrives to be unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC at a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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As soon as Brendan Rodgers was dismissed by Liverpool on Sunday, Jurgen Klopp’s name was tossed around as the likely successor to the then-vacant Liverpool managerial position.

However, according to Klopp’s representatve Marc Kosicke, Liverpool did not make contact with the German until after Rodgers had been officially let go.

“The first call from Liverpool came after the dismissal as coach of Rodgers,” Kosicke told Bild. “Before Liverpool there were naturally quite a few inquiries. But Jurgen always asked me not to take it any further.”

Club management was less committal than Klopp’s rep, but did say they had their eye on the German for some time. “We have learned to keep certain matters confidential. We had a meeting recently with Jurgen that he has talked about and I don’t want to talk too much about these conversations. But we have thought about him for a long time and everyone who knows football knows he is an outstanding manager.”

It’s relatively hard to believe Liverpool would have canned Rodgers without knowing for sure that a top-level target such as Klopp or Carlo Ancelotti were on board to replace him. It also would mean discussions of the contract terms and logistics would have moved at lightning speed, with just four days between the Rodgers dismissal and Klopp’s official unveiling.

England’s Mark Sampson on growth of women’s soccer, NWSL

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Head coach of England women’s national team Mark Sampson is a man who has had his life transformed over the past six months.

[ MORE: English women inspire a nation ]

Since England finished third at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada — the Three Lionesses had failed to win a single knockout game before their exploits in Canada — Sampson and his team have been at the fore of the women’s game getting increased exposure and attendances in England.

[ MORE: Klopp dazzles on Liverpool unveiling ]

With that in mind, ProSoccerTalk caught up with Sampson to discuss his appearance at the Balanced Business Forum (BBF) in London next week, which promotes gender balance in the business world, plus we also spoke to him about what the reaction has been like in England since returning from the World Cup and his plans for his own team, and his own coaching pathway, for the future.

Q: Mark, what is it about the BBF which made you so interested in speaking and getting involved?

A: I have  been fortunate enough to work in women’s football for a number of years now and at a number of levels as well and be around some elite people on and off the field, whether that be on the pitch or away from the pitch in the boardroom. I am very passionate about women’s sport and women in business. It is a great opportunity to share my experiences, particularly over the course of the summer, where I worked with a group of women who were successful and achieved something very special. It is a unique opportunity to share those experiences.

You have seen up close the positive impact of women playing soccer at the elite level. How important is it to develop those qualities in young women?

Certainly within women’s football we have seen a huge leap in recent years in not only the quality of play on the field but the change in the dynamic in the game as a whole. We are seeing more people watching domestic football, more people supporting the international team, we are seeing more clubs move towards a more professional model, which is creating positions not only for women on the field but off the field. I think women’s football at the moment is seen as a leading light not only in women’s sport but promoting in high positions.

How does all of this slot into your long-term and short-term goals with the English national team?

From our point of view we are obviously keen to promote the team and the game. We still have a lot of work to do at growing the game, whether that be at grassroots level, domestic level or international level. We are not where we want to be at yet. We want to make sure we continue to grow and these kind of opportunities are great for us to share our experiences, share our journeys and make sure that we are continually promoting good practice in women’s sport. The FA are certainly very strong around supporting women’s coaches, grassroots development, women in the boardroom and these are great opportunities to share those experiences and push that message even further.

After being involved at Swansea City and other clubs in the men’s game, what it the biggest differences you’ve seen between men’s and women’s soccer over the years?

The most important thing to mention, always, is that football is football. The great thing is that the women’s game now is getting the respect from people outside of it that maybe it didn’t have in previous years. Certainly there is a long way to go to move it closer to the men’s game but there is far more acceptance now from the men’s game. As a sport and it has got its own identity and people support it. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, they are football clubs who have really got behind and jumped on the bandwagon of women’s football and have started to develop really strong models at club level, hence we are seeing better players, better programs and more bums on seats at grounds. That is probably the way for us to go, moving forward, to really connect with the men’s game and ensure women’s football is visible within their clubs.

Since the World Cup, the FA Women’s Super League (WSL) in England has seen attendances rising, is that a big plus for you?

Absolutely. We are really working hard at ground level to push attendances and grow the game and to see it transpire at club matches and international matches is just a pat on the back really, for all the hard work that is going on. There has been hard work going on for many years, many years before I started working in the women’s football and here people haven’t got the rewards they deserve for the work that has been put in but now the rewards are there for everybody to see and the challenge is to continue to grow these partnerships and move the game forward. I still think we have a long way to go but this is a huge opportunity to keeping growing this game.

Can you sum up the reaction and incredible interest levels in the England women’s national team? What has that been like since you returned home after the successful summer?

The best way to describe it is, it is a different world. Jumping straight back off the plane we’ve had far more media interest, many more spectators at grounds, the girls are getting recognized in the street and people are genuinely supporting the team and excited about where this team is going. It has been great because people have been grafting away behind-the-scenes for years with the training, matches and hard work, and now to get to the point where they are being recognized for that, it is a real special time. It has given me even more motivation to keep that going and push it even further.


What is the next step for this team? You have a friendly tournament in China next month and then EURO 2017 which you are qualifying for right now. Surely you will be one of the favorites to win EURO 2017? 

As a nation like England whether that be in men’s or women’s football, you are always going to be one of the favorites for a major championship. That pressure is always going to be there. This team has been great at managing that pressure and seeing it as an opportunity and pushing it. There is a big challenge for us. We have got to always think about the big picture on this one. If we want to be winning these major championships, the World Cups and European Championships, then we have to consistently perform. To do that we need to play the best teams on a regular basis and win matches. A lot of time in international football people think you can turn up at a major tournament and turn it on for two months and go home with a trophy, but the reality of it is you need to be the best team, consistently, going into those tournaments and that has got to be our challenge in the next two to four years. Make sure we are winning football matches, growing our program and growing the game so that when we turn up at major championships, people look at England as a genuine contender.

Looking over at the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) in the USA, what do you make of the progress they have made?

Since it has come back into the fore, it has been really important. The U.S. are a leading nation of the women’s game and when the previous pro league fell by the wayside I always felt it was important for the women’s game as a whole that America were delivering a professional league. It is great to see the crowds and the quality of the football in America, in terms of how that relates to us, we are different. The culture in England is very different to America and we have got to work out how we are going to be competitive and sometimes the best way to find a competitive edge is to find something new and do something different. We are certainly going to look at what is going on in America, learn lessons of the good and the bad and make sure we find something that works well for our team and our country about growing the game. We have certainly got to give huge credit to the States and not only the work the national team and Jill is doing but domestically. The way they’ve grown the game and their fanbase, every nation is saying that we need to find a way of doing something like this.

You are obviously focused on your job with England right now, but I wanted to ask you about your own future. There are British coaches over in the NWSL, some of your players are over there too. If an opportunity arose in the NWSL or the U.S. in the future, would you consider it? 

Every coach is always going to say they are fully focused on their current job and I am certainly no different to that. In the future there will be some new challenges and I would never say no to anything, and certainly the way the women’s game is growing, and not just for me but every coach, there are going to be more opportunities to go and work at professional football clubs with some great players and some big clubs with big crowds. For any coach that has always got to be the motivation. Can you work at the highest possible level and test yourself?

Finally, in your home country of Wales right now there is euphoria around Gareth Bale and Wales on the brink of sealing qualification to the EURO 2016 championships. How big of a moment is this for soccer in Wales?

Saturday is a huge sporting day for the entire nation in general. We have a huge game against Australia in the Rugby World Cup, followed by an even bigger game for the Welsh national team away at Bosnia in our European Championship campaign. Certainly, Welsh sport at the moment is on a real high and it would be great to see the national team qualify for a major championship. I worked with Gareth Bale as a young kid and he is doing amazing things for himself and for the game in Wales. The staff behind-the-scenes there have worked so hard for so many years to really push the game and develop that team and everyone is really confident now that they will get their reward. It would be awesome for the country to be at a major championship.