THAT sport holds up a mirror to our political landscape is an inescapable truth and has been borne out repeatedly over the years.

The unprecedented decision made by the Royal Spanish Football Federation authorities that this month’s scheduled El Clasico, which had been due to be played at the Nou Camp next weekend, has to be postponed due to civil unrest is more than just an inconvenience for sofa surfers who have been indulged with access to Europe’s high profile games at the touch of a button.

The recent jailing of nine Catalan political leaders has been the catalyst for widespread unrest within the city. Further protests have been planned for the 26th October, the day the game was due to take place with the authorities fearful of further rioting.

Thousands of protestors have clashed with police on Barcelona’s streets this week with at least 96 people hurt so far in clashes between riot police and those who are calling for the freedom of political prisoners.


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If it seems far removed from our current vantage point it would be unwise to be too smug.

With tensions rising across a powderkeg Europe and naked instances of racism dominating headlines there is no evidence to suggest that we are immune from the divisive nature of political discord.

And there is plenty of that around at the minute.

There was much hand-wringing this week as the England players seriously contemplated walking off the pitch in Bulgaria given the vile nature of the monkey chants and racists jeers that were directed towards Tyrone Mings, Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.

The incident in Sofia only served to bring into sharp focus the lack of progress that has been made across Europe in educating and eradicating the issue but the governing bodies stand as guilty as an hooded thug on the terraces.

The Bulgarians have charged just seven supporters in the aftermath of the game while UEFA stand accused of being ridiculously soft on dealing with racist incidents. The governing body are, however, quick to sanction anyone who might dare to ambush lucrative marketing avenues; Nicklas Bendtner, the former Danish striker, copped an £80k fine and a one-game ban for having the audacity to show off the waistband of his boxers with the PaddyPower logo in 2012.

By contrast, in the same year, as Porto fans subjected the then Manchester City forward Mario Balotelli to prolonged racist abuse in a Europa League tie, the club copped a fine of just over £16k. Underwear-gate was dealt with ten times more severely than racist chanting. What message has that sent out and continues to send out?

It suggests a governing body content to pay lipservice but little more to an issue that has become noticeably more prominent in recent years.


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And while the ugliness of monkey chants might seem far removed from terraces closer to home, are they really?

It was less than a year ago that Sterling was at the centre of a racist incident at Stamford Bridge as four Chelsea fans were suspended by the London club after being caught on social media yelling racist abuse at the England player.

That in itself sparked a debate about the racist rhetoric with conversations ignited about how young black footballers are portrayed across the current media landscape. But as the conversation moves on to something different, the discussion dissipates when the issues clearly do not.

Mark Walters, who had bananas thrown at him as a Rangers player at an Old Firm game in 1988, revealed his own thoughts that such behaviour changed not because people became educated and enlightened but rather because they became fearful of being caught and punished.

Essentially, if you cannot tutor people to a realisation that there is life beyond skin colour, or race or creed then it has to be forcibly applied. The law needs to be robust and unambigious in dealing with such matters and UEFA and FIFA need a backbone in terms of making sanctions significantly harsher than they are now.

Emile Heskey, the former England and Liverpool striker, made a telling statement in his autobiography in which he spoke about his reticence to go into coaching as he queried just how his role models are on that front.

It should encourage pause for thought at the very least.

Where is the diversity on our sports desks? In our training grounds? In the dug outs? In the offices of those who make and enforce the legislation?


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Before we look the other way we might want to peer a little bit closer at what’s under our noses.


Monsoon or not, Scotland’s win over San Marino on Sunday night was much needed.

Pity the poor ball-boys who could find little reprieve from the torrential skies but at least there was some sunshine as Steve Clarke’s side found a little bit of breathing space.

It might not be too much to shout about but if there is to be the tiniest sliver of hope in terms of sneaking in the back door to this summer’s European Championships then it is imperative that the battered psyche of the Scotland squad at least gets a lift from the win.

If it can set the foundation to put Clarke’s side on more solid footing ahead of the March play-offs then maybe the unthinkable can yet happen. It still seems like as long a shot as suggesting that Hampden’s climate will have changed much come June but at least if there is some kind of progress to be made then there is hope.