Players at the this year's Euro 2012 European soccer championship will have to rely entirely on referees to stop any racism on the field, or else risk a yellow card if they walk off in protest. But the kind of racism that had Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli (pictured) threatening to walk off the field usually comes not from other players but from the stands, where referees have little control. All the refs can do to combat racist fans is stop the game, which UEFA president Michael Platini promised at a Wednesday news conference that they would do, but which would surely lead to furious fans.
Threatening to penalize players for walking off the field in the face of racism removes one of their few individual lines of defense from the attacks that have unfortunately become commonplace. Balotelli made his threat after dealing with regular racist incidents when he played for Italy, including the time someone threw a banana at him. "If someone throws a banana at me in the street, I will go to jail because I will kill them," he said last week, before threatening to walk off the field if it happened during play at Euro 2012, to be held in Poland and Ukraine. Last year, Brazil's Roberto Carlos walked off the field when someone threw a banana from the stands.
As The Atlantic Wire's Dashiell Bennett pointed out last week, a recent BBC film warned that the Euro 2012 host are a hotbed of football racism and "included footage of Polish and Ukrainian fans making monkey noises at black players, throwing up Nazi salutes and anti-Semitic chants in the stands, and beating up minority fans." Since then, though, the BBC has faced claims it sensationalized its coverage, including from Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish community centre in Krakow, who accused BBC of "selective reporting," according to The Guardian's Luke Harding. Whether or not racism turns out to be a major issue in this year's tournament, UEFA wants the referees to handle it, not the players.