Race is not the easiest of topics to tackle, especially not across borders and cultural barriers. It is hard to have a an open and informative dialog about race when so many have had so many varied experiences with it in various countries around the world, but it is worth discussing and it is worth keeping out in the open.
On Sunday, the UEFA disciplinary committee, or at least the chairman of that committee, acquitted Sergio Busquets of the charge of racially abusing Marcelo during the Champions League semi-final first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid. UEFA’s official statement can be read here.
From the beginning this wasn’t something that was going to be an open-and-shut case. There have been summary calls for heads, for bans, for public humiliation, and all manner of less dramatic or drastic consequences; there have also been calls for Real Madrid to apologize, to self-flagellate and prostrate themselves before the altar of “learning how to lose gracefully.” (As if Barça has never turned sprinklers on victorious Interistas—especially that one).
The starting point, however, is to say that these accusations must be taken seriously. Private discussions with friends—fellow cules, it must be said—have included mention that Barça can’t possibly respond to every spurious accusations, especially not with the sheer number that Madrid has sent UEFA’s way over the last couple of weeks. But that forgets that Barça did respond to all but one of these accusations—publicly demanding Mourinho be excoriated for calling UEFA and UNICEF a cabal of insider old boys working to get Barcelona to the very top.
Part of the problem is that there is a distinct lack of information. We do not know what Marcelo has stated to UEFA, but we do know that Busi gave the barely plausible “mucho morro” (you’ve got a lot of nerve) explanation. We do not know how review of the video used to lodge the complaint was used, but we do know that video is, my lawyer friends assure me, a controversial evidentiary topic in all courts of law.
Busi has certainly been convicted and sentenced to death in the court of public opinion—especially in the Circuit Court of Twitter—but that provides no closure thanks to the ever-expanding role the Internet seems to play in being judge, jury, and executioner. Conspiracy is the bread and butter of the web, after all, and this merely increases the evidence.
Anyone who believes Busi did call Marcelo a monkey—I have been assured by a Spanish language linguist that such is the case—are rightly justified in being miffed at the utter lack of regard for UEFA’s own anti-racism campaign. Depending on the espouser, it can smack of guilty before innocent, but then that’s another high horse that can be led astray with the slightest tug of the reins. Anyone who believes that Busi is innocent—there are experts on all sides, I just happen to know the one and we know where she stands—are rightly justified in being miffed at those who refuse to see that UEFA has fully vindicated their loyalty and belief in the player.
And a combination of everyone is claiming UEFA is merely avoiding further scandal before its main event or that now Madrid is avoiding culpability in not just bringing a spurious complaint, but also leading a vociferous media campaign to condemn Busi.
All of that antagonism towards UEFA or Madrid merely glosses over the very real nature of racism. It exists and only the most myopic will say otherwise, but leaving this fact as implicit acknowledgment in the Say No to Racism campaign rather than confronting and putting the club and the team on the right side of this debate leaves Barcelona shirking its responsibilities as a social institution. When racism rears its head as it did here, it is necessary for the club to take a stand for what is right, rather than what is most expedient at the moment. It was probably prudent for the club to say nothing of the particular incident while UEFA determined its course of action, but it was unwise and short-sighted to fail to point out, immediately and with the full force of the team and board, that racism is unacceptable at Barcelona.
If we accept that Busquets did not attack Marcelo with a dehumanizing insult—and make no mistake, to call another person a monkey is dehumanizing—it does not mean we should accept that Barcelona has no share in the responsibility of making sure that the world recognizes that racism is beyond the bounds of acceptable behaviour. The club should have gone on the offensive and spent its time and money to be extremely clear that racist acts, either verbal or physical, would not be tolerated. That does not require expressly defending Busi in public, making sweeping proclamations of innocence, or punishing Busi—indeed, the club is now absolved of having to do that—but it should have been clear from the beginning that no matter the outcome of UEFA’s investigation, under absolutely no circumstance is okay for a Barcelona employee to engage in racist acts.
To close, the main thing I’ve learned from this is that I have little faith in Barcelona’s board to do the right thing. As a member, that’s hard to take. As someone emotionally invested in the club and several of its causes, that’s hard to take. My faith in the board’s willingness to do the right thing has been shaken not by the accusations and not by the player’s response so much as by the board’s utter refusal to accept any responsibility or openly discuss why these accusations are so serious. We may never know what Busquets really said (or we may refuse to believe what is so obvious to some), but we will always know that Barcelona failed to do the right thing this time around.
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