Thursday, October 16, 2008

Racism is unacceptable ... except when it's inconvenient for some people to put a foot down

In the short time since Atlético was banned from playing at the Vicente Calderón for the highly anticipated match with Liverpool next week, I've found my opinion on Liverpool fans hurting in the short term for the better future of the game is not one shared by, well, pretty much any other Liverpool supporter whose bothered to express their views on the Web – at least that I can find.

Despite my allegiance to Liverpool and love for the team, I think this is a terrible shame, particularly now that it seems likely UEFA has reversed its decision and will allow the match to go on in Madrid on Wednesday as first planned. No matter that 6,000 Liverpool fans would have been tremendously inconvenienced by a change in venue, in the realm of public opinion, this doesn't look good. The headline on the Guardian story above I linked to says it all for non-Scousers: "Liverpool set to get their way over Atlético trip"

It's one thing to tell detractors and the media to "Fuck off" when the situation warrants it. But I believe it's horrible form to complain – loud and long – about a relatively insignificant injustice being perpetrated against you when it comes at the expense of sending a serious and potent message denouncing racism in football. As I said a couple days ago, this severe punishment against Atlético was deserved, it represented a line being drawn, at last, against the ignorance and hate that is hurled down from the terraces across Europe on a regular basis.

Instead, very public pressure from Liverpool supporters and the club itself proved they decided to take a pass on joining in that fight.

The return of Fernando Torres to Atlético on Wednesday has been anticipated since the very second the group draw showed it would happen. It will be a highly charged, emotional moment for all involved. Torres, the prodigy turned superstar upon leaving comes "home" to be challenged by Kun Aguero, the new apprentice emerging as a major force. And Liverpool, essentially Spain's de facto representative in the Premier League since Rafa took over – and fairly recent European Cup champions at that – on a trip to Spain to test an exciting La Liga team.

All those factors and more that make me and countless others so eager for Wednesday to get here are exactly why UEFA's match ban was so effective and important. It said that nothing, no matter how hyped, built up and seemingly important to the soul of a club can come before stamping out racist treatment toward any player at any time. This is not political correctness or symbolic gesturing. For fuck's sake, Atlético's official team Web site attempted to explain that observers mistakenly thought fans chanting "Kun, Kun, Kun, Kun!" in support of Aguero were making monkey sounds! This is team-sanctioned cover for inhumane behavior.

The punishment against Atlético should have stood, and Liverpool fans with plans made convenient again for travel to Madrid on Wednesday should recognize steps taken to accommodate their relatively small group have diminished larger efforts to banish the moronic hordes whose very presence inside stadia are an embarrassment to the world.

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