Jun 22 11:25 PM

Why is FIFA tolerating fans in blackface at the World Cup?

blackface
Fans showing up in blackface: FIFA has yet to respond to a troubling trend at the World Cup in Brazil
Drawlio Joca / Getty Images

International soccer's governing body FIFA has been typically forceful in policing fan behavior around the World Cup in Brazil. If you promote the wrong brand of beer, carry the wrong water bottle or bring musical instruments (as Nigeria’s official supporters’ club learned during its game with Iran), FIFA will either eject you or prohibit its use.  But if you show up in blackface, it seems,  security will let you through, and nothing will happen to you.

For example, France’s victory over Switzerland on Saturday was soiled by the behavior of three of its fans in the Arena Fonte Nova stadium in Salvador who decided to dress in blackface and mock the Afro-Brazilian and Caribbean religion, Candomblé.

Not only has FIFA apparently turned a blind eye to this behavior; the media have largely ignored it, too. ESPN showed the three French fans in blackface singing the national anthem, but its announcers let the image pass without comment. (Update: FIFA announced later on Sunday that its disciplinary committee is investigating the matter. "We do not respect any discriminatory messages," FIFA spokeswoman Delia Fischer told the Associated Press.)

On Saturday, during Ghana’s match with Germany, at least a dozen German fans turned up in blackface. (An Instagram user, Selma_Slim, who posted an image of two white men in blackface with t-shirts with crude “Ghana” insignia, wrote that he spotted at least eight people in blackface.) And some of them were invited to interviews with Brazilian television at the official FanFest, while at the game itself, other fans stopped to have their picture taken with the fans in blackface. Other images of German fans in blackface have emerged on Twitter. Also, during the match, a man alleged by a fan anti-racist group to be a Nazi sympathizer ran onto the field, showing off tattoos that the AP reported expressed support for Hitler and the SS Nazi military unit. Security did not intervene, and it was left to Ghana's midfield enforcer, Sulley Muntari, to escort the man off the field where he was taken away by match stewards. 

Yahoo News reported that there were had been several Neo-Nazi signs at matches involving Russia and Croatia. But when it comes to blackface, major media are simply ignoring it.

Some have suggested we should not be surprised, given the overt racism in European football (black players are routinely subjected to monkey chants and offered bananas in Spain, Italy and large parts of the former Eastern Bloc and Russia). 

Last week when rambunctious Chilean supporters climbed a fence into the Maracana to try to watch their team defeat Spain, the fact that they had pushed through a screen at the media center made headlines around the world and they were widely criticized for breaking the law by trying to see the game without having bought a ticket. But the media, and the authorities who run the game, have yet to challenge the practice of showing up to a game adorned in a style that celebrates centuries of racism against black people. 

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