Tuesday, March 23, 2021

More than a soccer match

Lots of Czech pundits, including former prime ministers Paroubek and Topolánek (and Klaus Jr who announced the end of his political career today), have expressed nearly identical opinions, with quite some insightful details.

Ondřej Kúdela in the typical half-red, half-white Slavia shirt.

I chose to translate this text by Patrik Nacher.

A commentary: more than a soccer match

The [Europa League] soccer match between Slavia Prague [the best team in Czechia right now, no loss in ~37 recent games, China-owned] and the Scottish Glasgow Rangers has unwillingly unmasked several aspects of the present which vastly transcend not only this single match but all of soccer and the sports as a whole. I have observed at least three interesting moments: Western vs Eastern Europe, verbal vs physical assault, and racism built on the presumption of guilt. And the double standards at numerous places were just some additional proverbial cherries on a pie.

If you observed the whole atmosphere around the match, you couldn't overlook the fact that the hosts have looked at the Slavia players with quite some disdain which had implications – the first one was the Scottish athletes' underestimation of the adversary. A famous Scottish club can't be prevented from advancing to the Europa League quarter finals by a club from Eastern Europe, can it? [Slavia won 0-to-2 in Glasgow.]

I dare to claim that the behavior that the organizers showed (e.g. preventing the players from going to the locker rooms) wouldn't happen if the antagonists came from Germany, Spain, or Italy. And it is not just about the aggressive style of the play. We could see the same in the behavior in all the Scottish players and the whole team. This behavior was visibly getting even worse during the match and especially after the match i.e. after the "unexpected" loss.

Under normal circumstances, everyone would discuss especially (but not only) the kung-fu flying kick against Slavia's goalkeeper. This wasn't just a conventional foul play, it was a liquidational kick that could be compared to the in-game assault by Stephen Hunt against Petr Čech in 2006. Our famous national team goalie started to wear his famous helmet after that incident.

But the playground was filled with tension from the very beginning. At the end of the match, the whole Scottish team has lost its nerves and it was repeatedly kicking into Czech players who were lying on the ground, in the efforts to rob them of the ball. However, the verdict about who is the evil one on the playground has miraculously flipped and a tiny moment was enough. One player has whispered something to another. Except for these two men, maybe, no one knows what was being said. Despite this ignorance, and maybe because of it, we could hear loud and far-reaching statements that culminated in a classic "story about racism" that has overshadowed all the other events.

Who would care about a physical assault of one player against another in the tunnel belonging to the stadium? A punch cannot possibly overshadow the whispering to someone's little ear if that whispering may include a racist reference, can it?. And that's how we are getting to the second theme that I have mentioned: these days, the media love to discuss an alleged "racist assault" more than the actual physical assault.

I personally find it utterly illogical but this seems to be the result of the evolution of our hypercorrect society – Slavia's player was supposed to withstand the brutal moves and neverending provocations (in the match, Rangers have received whopping two red cards [and they could have gotten another one]) and he was supposed to beat all the emotions and temptations. But when it comes to the player of Rangers, his physical assault may be totally justified by his emotions. His violent behavior is often being presented as a logical corollary of the previous whispering involving the racist reference. In other words, it is a story how they evaluate analogous situations according to two totally different standards.

We are finally getting to the third theme which is the observation that when it comes to the fight against racism, the presumption of innocence doesn't seem to apply. Instead, it is the presumption of guilt that is the default rule. And this novel modification of the rules arguably explains everything else. The confrontations are being evaluated with the assumption that the racist insult has simply been voiced and the Czech player is being pressured into the duty to prove that it isn't the case. That is also why many people have argued that if it were just an ordinary insult, he wouldn't cover his mouth by his hand.

Finally, let us mention the position of the fans. While a stupid and genuinely racist banner – which a group of Slavia's fans proudly photographed with themselves – has gotten to every place in the world media and was denounced by all the officials and players of Slavia, it will be unquestionably counted as an aggravation.

On one hand, I have read numerous comments by the Glasgow Rangers fans in the social networks that the goalkeeper of Slavia should have ended up in a worse way (and this is one of the more polite reactions) [and that the legs of Kúdela should be broken, I've reported 35 tweets with this content LOL, LM], but the media were surprisingly not interested in those calls. In fact, even one of the coaches of Rangers hardened the stance when he wrote that he wanted to see blood and mourning by the Slavia coach. As of today (I was writing this comment on Monday, March 22nd, in the late afternoon), I didn't see that the Scottish team would denounce these comments. On the contrary, we are witnessing efforts by numerous people to expel the team from Eden [Slavia's playground] from the Europa League [a petition has over 3,000 signatures, LM], after all the bad things that Slavia has experienced in Scotland.

Without hesitation, I must admit that I can rarely see a single event that is capable of describing so plastically and realistically the present in such a concentrated way.

Patrick Nacher, a municipal politician in Prague

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