Here are some recent cases where it can be argued that not enough is being done to show that the game is taking seriously its ongoing problems with expressions of mindless hate.
Italy: Spectators at Serie A team Cagliari have aimed racist abuse, boos and monkey chants at former Juventus midfielder Moise Kean (April of this year), and Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku (earlier this month). Kean was told by his teammate Leonardo Bonucci that he was "50% responsible" for the chants because, after scoring against Cagliari, he stood in front of his tormentors with outstretched arms. Lukaku was told by Inter fans defending their counterparts in Cagliari not to interpret racist chants as racist, it's just fans trying to make their opponents nervous. An Italian journalist was banned from a TV show this weekend after saying the only way to stop Lukaku was with bananas.
Kean moved to England in the summer to play for Everton. Racism in England seemed to have become less of a problem in recent times, but the internet -- in combination with a poisonous national atmosphere prompted by the country's baffling decision to leave the EU -- has fostered new levels of xenophobia. Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford of Manchester United were subject to noxious reactions on Twitter after missing penalties, and Pogba has been particularly active in calling on his fellow professionals to speak out more against such abuse. [Clubs like Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have, however, reacted to proven individual cases of racist abuse among fans by banning them for life.]
In Germany, the chairman of Bundesliga club Schalke 04, Clemens Tönnies, delivered a staggeringly dumb speech last month that's not worth repeating, but which managed to gratuitously insult the entire continent of Africa. Despite all the fine words in every German club's constitution about equality, fairness and tolerance, Schalke merely suspended him for three months. A German federation commission then somehow managed to conclude that Tönnies is "not a racist." Presumably by playing rock-paper-scissors.
Third division club Chemnitzer FC, meanwhile, bravely attempted to tackle a long-running problem with a large swathe of neo-Nazi supporters. In August they summarily sacked striker Daniel Frahn for his public proximity to the far-right scene, but director Thomas Sobotzik resigned this month after deciding that the resultant barrage of insults and threats of violence are not worth the price of staying in his job. "I would have been prepared to have a down-to-earth discussion with our more radical fans," he declared, "but that was just never going to happen." Good luck to the next man or woman brave enough to take that job.
On to France, where referee Clement Turpin last month had the courage to suspend action during the game between Nice and Marseille due to homophobic banners and chants from the Nice fans. He resumed the game once the banners were removed. And how much support did he receive from the French federation head Noël le Graët? Precisely none. "Stopping games [for this] doesn't interest me," said le Graët. "It's a mistake." Presumably, like the Inter fans, he sees toxic messages as part and parcel of the game's "banter."
Finally, in this sorry catalogue of Stone Age attitudes, we move to Iran, where women are not allowed to attend games. Sahar Khodayari, 29, was so keen to see her team, Esteghlal Tehran, last March that she defied the ban by dressing up as a man. She was caught and, earlier this month, when she heard in court that she could face half a year in prison for her 'crime,' doused herself with an flammable liquid and then set herself alight. Ninety percent of her skin burned off and she died from her wounds a few days later.
Let's take this last example of how soccer could react. In its list of objectives, the statutes of FIFA state that the body will "use its efforts to ensure that the game of football is available to and resourced for all who wish to participate, regardless of gender or age." It also promises commitment "to respecting all internationally recognized human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights." So, simply, it should ban Iran from all international soccer competitions until it allows women to attend games, citing the above manifesto (from August 2018).
Manchester United could boycott Twitter until the social media company acts to extinguish the choral idiocy its platform offers to anonymous bigots. Players need to stand more publicly behind their teammates, unlike Leonardo Bonucci. Soccer bodies need to fully back referees like Turpin who have the conviction to do what is right, and close stadiums where racist and homophobic chants have become the norm. Club officials like Clemens Tönnies need to be banned from the game for life.
At present there are just not enough serious signals from those who matter, which is why we find ourselves in a repeat cycle of depressing incidents. Bigotry is not freedom of speech, it's a crime. Instead of making excuses, soccer needs to step up and punish it. The game needs to show zero tolerance for intolerance.
(Ian Plenderleith is a coach and referee in Germany's amateur and youth leagues. He holds the Uefa C-License and coached youth soccer in Maryland from 2004-2014. His latest book, "The Quiet Fan," is available here. His previous book, "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League," is available here.)