Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Kicking the Dog

For anyone that follows international soccer, it is well-known that racism has long been a problem among soccer fandom.  For all the racial problems we have here in the states (and we have many, deep seeded problems), Europe has its own that extend beyond soccer.  This is largely due to the degree to which European nations are homogeneous.  The United States, as a nation of immigrants, is more racially diverse than any other nation on Earth, and so we've been forced to deal with each other.

FIFA and UEFA have been working to eliminate racist activities by teams and fans within the soccer arena.  I applaud this on its own merits, and also respect the degree to which sports teams and players can help shape social attitudes and perceptions.

That being said, I don't see where this is effective.  If German or Croatian players were making monkey noises at black players or showing up for the pre-game stretches in swastika armbands, absolutely punish the players, the coaches, and the organization.  What I don't get about fining the organization for the activities of the fans is that there is no direct link between the two.

Which isn't to say they wouldn't be justified if such a link could be established.  In American law we have a well established principle known as respondeat superior, which essentially says that those in charge can be held responsible for the actions of their agents.  The most common example is when police departments and municipal governments are sued because a police officer violates someone's rights, but you can also see it when a FedEx driver runs over someone or a CEO turns a blind eye to his accountants shredding books.  The argument basically is that even if you didn't know or direct the activity, if you were reckless in ignoring bad behavior, did not have adequate training and review methods in place, or took no effort to ensure qualified individuals were in place to handle the work, you are still partly to blame.  In some ways it's a policy decision:  rather than allow those in charge to dump blame off on a scapegoat, we make it financially disadvantageous to stick their heads in the sand, and thereby ensure they go out of their way to see to it that those they supervise do their jobs professionally and ethically.

And that would apply to a general manager if, say, one of his players broke a rule.  It could even apply to fans in those cases where the team exercises some control, for example at the home stadium where the team's owners also have an ownership interest in the arena and thereby the gate.  We could say "hey, you sold these yahoos the tickets, you let them in, you should employ security to see to it that these fans don't get out of control.  And your security should be so trained as to recognize bad behavior and remove fans who engage in it."

Now, this blog has written before about the problems with policing the non-violent activities of fans.  UEFA's activites go beyond even this, however, to what is basically punishing a road team for the activities of some random dumbass in that team's colors.  

The Euro 2012 cup is being hosted in Poland and Ukraine, in stadiums across those two countries.  The German and Croatian national teams have no ownership interest in those stadiums and therefore no control over who gets in and who gets taken out.  Even if there were some system for ticket sales whereby people could buy tickets through the box office of their home team, how exactly are they supposed to screen for this kind of behavior?

Ultimately, I guess, I'm just wondering what behavior by the national team this punishment on the national teams is supposed to either correct or encourage.  Are national teams supposed to show up with their own uniformed enforcers to remove undesirables (and are they allowed then to set their own standards on what is undesirable)?  Are they supposed to engage in some form of PR campaign to educate their citizenry?  The latter I'd applaud, but I don't view it as their responsibility, nor is it a fool proof system.  The NBA fined Kobe Bryant last year for calling someone a faggot, and the NBA itself has a commercial with Grant Hill fighting homophobia.  

You could argue that this is instead supposed to send a message to the fans.  "You act like an asshole, and we're going to punish your team."  Set aside the morality of that and just focus on the effectiveness.  Why do I, as a fan, care if my team gets fined money?  I care if they lose cap space or roster spots, or get assessed a technical foul, or lose a time out or get pushed back 15 yards or even if every player gets a yellow card.  These are things that affect the play on the field.  If the team writes a check though, it really doesn't impact me.  It may have a small impact on ticket prices, but with television viewing ticket demand is fairly inelastic.

So this looks like a classic example of kicking the dog because you can't find the cat.  UEFA has limited to no ability to directly dissuade or punish fans from engaging in these admittedly bad activities.  Their response, however, is to simply lash out at the nearest target they can find.  Plus, they are doing so in a way that gets them more money.  Just sayin'.

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