Bazoer the latest victim of Dutch football’s persistent racism problem
Frank de Boer was outraged. “That this is scandalous is beyond question,” he told Fox Sports.
“I do not accept this,” referee Pol van Boekel said. “This does not belong in a stadium.”
“I am embarrassed,” ADO Den Haag director Jan Willem Wigt added.
Yes, just about everyone was disgusted and sickened on Sunday as 19-year-old Ajax midfielder Riechedly Bazoer was the subject of racist taunts in his side’s 1-0 win over ADO Den Haag. Everyone except, of course, the culprits.
ADO coach Henk Fraser and the club have condemned and distanced themselves from the fans responsible and have pledged to do whatever it takes to find and ban those responsible, with Willem Wigt remaining confident that there is a “fairly large” chance they will be able to identify them. Meanwhile, the KNVB said Bazoer had their full support, insisting that had he and his team-mates chosen to walk off the field, they would have faced no punishment.
Former Ajax, PSV and Netherlands goalkepeer Stanley Menzo soon pointed out the brutality of those actions from the victim’s point of view: “It’s incredible that you can shrug this off as a boy of 19. It testifies to his stability,” he told De Telegraaf. “From my own experience I know that jungle noises and racist chants are extremely humiliating. The hardest blow comes later. During a match, you’re full of adrenaline and you’re focused on football. If you think calmly about it because you are confronted by media and family members, that’s when you really suffer the humiliation.”
Despite the troublesome Ajax fans not being allowed to attend the game, there always remained the danger of some reprehensible behaviour as these two teams clashed and the ADO fans took it upon themselves to bring the match attention it, as what happened on the pitch was fairly underwhelming.
The supporters could have taken the time to scream out in anger against ner Hui Wang, who is yet to fulfill a single promise and has repeatedly missed deadlines to put money into the club, leaving them in financial ruin. But it seems that upon analysing their priorities and the most important issue to hand, verbally berating a quiet but wonderfully talented young player appeared the more pressing matter.
The constant monkey noises aimed at the young midfielder brought to the fore another one of Dutch football’s big problems. While hooliganism and anti-Semitic chants have caused great concern in Netherlands over the years, the trouble with racism is one which is proving almost impossible to deal with.
It does not matter to some just how horrific such behaviour is, how widely it is condemned and what the repercussions are for individuals and clubs, some people remain relentless in their attacks on those of a different colour. It is football’s universal and persistent issue.
Ajax coach De Boer came away with the key quote which showed the true stupidity and blindness of those behind the noises: “I couldn’t believe it because ADO also have black players on the field.”
De Boer’s comment exposes the extent of the hypocrisy behind those chants and how blind some fans are. It is, perhaps, misguided and too easy to slam these fans as horrific definite racists. That they do not see that they are also harassing and discriminating against their own players suggests they merely see it as a way of winding up and affecting an opponent, but that does not make it any less abhorrent – opponent or not, they are attacking someone for the colour of their skin. That they can so easily dismiss that they are hounding a human being is worrying and utterly disgraceful.
One of those black players was ADO winger Ruben Schaken, who pointed out the dangers such a poisonous atmosphere can have on vulnerable fans and the unintended victims: “I am ashamed. My children were at the game and might think it is acceptable. I will explain at home that this is not the case. I live in a good neighbourhood and fortunately they have never had to deal with racism before. But it can happen again and I have prepared them for it.”
There were complaints that the referee should have brought an end to the match, though the KNVB say it is down to the teams to decide such action and that has been the case for the last 10 years. “A referee can’t be left to keep an eye on 15,000 people,” KNVB spokesman Hans van Kastel said. “It makes sense that the club should coordinate with the relevant parties when things go wrong and decide if the game must be stopped early. Moreover, it is also their home and their supporters.”
The irritating thing about it all is that this was no surprise. As De Boer said, “We’re used to it” and despite how heavily this incident has become one of the main talking points, it may have been a bigger surprise if the game had passed by without any controversy from the ADO fans, who court it wherever they go.
But they are not alone.
It is sadly another example of the despicable aspect of the tribalism that festers and grows in football stands.
While Bazoer may be the first victim in the Eredivisie in 2016, he is not the only one this season. There have been other horrific instances during the current campaign, starting from the first day of the season, as Roda JC’s Edwin Gyasi stuck his finger up at Heracles fans in retaliation to monkey noises they directed towards their former player.
FC Utrecht, meanwhile, banned some of their fans from the Galgenwaard after they were found to have discriminated against FC Twente’s Thomas Agyepong when they met in November. The club said they had reached the end of their tether with a group of supporters who have been nothing but trouble over the years, while owner Frans van Seumeren suggested he could walk away if such abhorrent behaviour continues.
In April 2015, Giliano Wijnaldum was not only abused by fans of his own club, Go Ahead Eagles, but got into a physical altercation with four of them which apparently saw one supporter leave with a bloody nose. His brother, former Feyenoord and PSV star Georginio, has also spoken of being targeted by the ADO faithful and Kenneth Vermeer says he has been called a “monkey” several times.
Clubs are getting fed up, as, one would imagine, are the majority of supporters. There is not a country on the planet which has eradicated racism from its football stadiums, but Dutch football has several issues it needs to take care of alongside it.
The anti-Semitic tone of many supporters’ chants is largely ignored and seen as non-issue overall, but those songs regularly cross a line which leads to many clubs being punished, yet the issue persists. FC Utrecht were forced to close one of their stands for their recent game against Ajax after some particularly offensive songs directed at the “Jewish” aspect of the Amsterdam side’s fan identity, which prompted the city’s mayor to ban visiting supporters from the match.
The same goes with hooliganism, which many clubs in Netherlands are still dealing with. The only way the authorities have been able to stamp that out, though, has been by banning away fans from certain games, like Ajax supporters’ inability to attend Sunday’s game. Furthermore, no away fans have been able to attend any games between Ajax and Feyenoord since 2009 because of safety concerns brought on by persistent fights.
Banning certain supporters makes sense, of course, but the issue is that there seems to be an unlimited supply of nutters willing to step in and fill the void left by their ousted comrades. The KNVB, like all associations, are looking for more effective measures to combat the disease of football violence and discrimination, but they cannot do it themselves.
The Bazoer case has been a massive story and the developments of the KNVB prosecutor’s investigation will be too, but the key issue falls with the public prosecutor, who will review the evidence from Sunday’s affair and decide if a criminal investigation will be opened. From there, perhaps a statement can be made on behalf of both the club, Dutch football’s governing body and the legal system to show fans that such behaviour will never be tolerated.
From there, steps must be taken to educate fans and eradicate it from football. Schaken’s quote points to a huge issue – how children are affected. Many latch onto that horrible mentality, believe that it is normal and not only join their fellow fans in berating the enemy but there is also a danger of it spilling over and into society. There are also the young victims of it who join the thousands of others who should never be exposed to something so horrendous and completely unnecessary.
Tribalism in football can be a good thing, but too often a line is crossed in several ways. Of course the sensible vast majority want it wiped out, but it is going to take a combination of authorities and institutions to help deal with an issue which manifests itself in various forms in Dutch football fandom.
The latest incident involving a teenager in his first full season of professional football has become a huge issue and perhaps we will see some groundbreaking action to help battle this cancerous culture. We can only wait and see.