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Throw Them Out Of Sport

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Two weeks ago, at Beyond Sport United in New York, David Stern, the Commissioner of the NBA for the last 30 years, spoke simply and plainly about racism in European football: "Throw them out of sport."

Since those comments, Lazio fans have made 'monkey chants' at Tottenham players at White Hart Lane and then, ahead of the second leg, Tottenham fans were attacked in a pub by masked Italians shouting anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans. Last weekend, anti-Semitic and abusive chants were made by a number of West Ham fans to Tottenham supporters - including "Hitler's coming to get you" and "Can we stab you every week?"

Nothing surprises me about the ignorance, stupidity and aggression of some fans. What shocks me is the inability of the governing bodies, teams and federations to respond with any sort of intention of stamping this behaviour out.

Speak to football fans and, in the main, they just shrug their shoulders - that's football and there's a general acceptance that nothing major is going to be done. After the chanting in the Lazio vs Tottenham game, UEFA issued a punishment of just £32,500. For a club turning over millions of euros every season, this is a mere slap on the wrist, yielding no impact whatsoever.

The last few months have been a disgrace for football and it is the responsibility of the clubs and the fans themselves to clear this up. They clearly are not motivated enough. So, how can we motivate them? The pub attack could have potentially have been avoided by punishing Lazio with a forfeit after the initial racial slurs in London. Significant financial implications and taking away the platform for those fans is the only way forward. Multiple-week bans for clubs, and lifelong bans for player and fans.

In the EU certain forms of conduct, which are committed for a racist or xenophobic purpose, are punishable as criminal offences. Clearly included are public incitement to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined on the basis of race, colour, descent, religion or belief, or national or ethnic origin, as are publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising crimes of genocide.

So to those West Ham FC Fans who were singing "Hitler's coming to get you," and making hissing gas noises at a football match is a convictable and criminal offence under European Law.

UEFA, FIFA, the Premier League, the FA, or the club must step forward and seek these offenders out - or at least employ the proper law enforcement at matches to do it for them.

Why is this not happening? History has told us that nothing of great significance or bite will happen. There is too much money at stake - so a low-risk strategy is the best approach. West Ham have issued life bans to two fans, but those two seats will be taken up very quickly - there has been no real implication for the club.

The reality, though, is that it is not just the sports that are affected but the sponsors and media that fund them. They now live under a very acute microscope of accountability - West Ham sponsors have to question the ethics and values of an organisation that they fund, because that continuous support reflects onto them and their values.

The Premier League has a highly valuable global property and protecting that asset must be at the top of their mind. Corporates and sponsoring brands want to invest in clean, wholesome and well-managed sport. The sponsors in football are not getting that, but the product is so good that they are by-passing their usual decision-making criteria. Whatever the problems the game faces, from corruption to racism, there still seems to be a long line of companies willing to take sponsorship.

Courage, risk-taking and leadership are not hallmarks that always run deep through sports administrators in Europe, but commercial nous does. The power rests with the sponsors and broadcasters. Once they change their decision, and hold those they fund responsible and accountable, then the clubs and leagues will have a sudden attack of moral values that will compel them to get to grips with racism in football.