Saha calls for tough measures

Congleton Guardian: Louis Saha wants the authorities to dish out fines for racial abuse Louis Saha wants the authorities to dish out fines for racial abuse

Louis Saha wants football clubs to be hit with multi-million pound fines if their fans are found guilty of racist abuse.

The problem of racism in football reared its ugly head again last weekend when a fan threw a banana at Brazil wing-back Dani Alves during Barcelona's win at Villarreal.

Alves' response - to peel and take a bite of the banana before carrying on with play - sparked a show of solidarity from his peers, who started posting pictures of themselves with bananas on social media websites.

Saha, who was racially abused during his playing career in England and while at Lazio, thinks the banana picture campaign, led by Barca and Brazil team-mate Neymar, somewhat trivialises the issue.

The former Manchester United striker thinks a better way to combat the issue would be if football took its lead from the NBA, which banned and fined Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling US dollars 2.5million (£1.5million) for making a racist remark in a taped interview.

Speaking at the launch of the Soccerex global convention in Manchester, Saha said: "Football needs to start handing out those kind of fines.

"And believe me, people would change their behaviour if that happened. Right now (the authorities) are scared.

"If (big fines) can be handed out to clubs whose fans are racially abusive then let's do it.

"That would be a big message to the world that this is not acceptable."

UEFA and FIFA have increased punishments for racist behaviour in recent years, but the banana-throwing incident in Spain shows racial discrimination is still a problem in football.

Neymar's picture of himself with a peeled banana has been liked over half a million times on Instagram.

Other footballers like Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli and David Luiz posted similar pictures online.

Various celebrities, and even Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, have also followed suit.

Saha hopes people do not forget there is a serious message behind the campaign.

"I am happy for this reaction, but I dislike the fact that we laugh about it," said Saha, whose parents come from the French island of Guadeloupe.

"It's not funny at all.

"It looks like everyone is saying, 'we can't change anything, so let's laugh about it'."

Saha was racially abused twice during his four-year spell at Everton - firstly from the stands in 2011 and the year later on Twitter.

The 35-year-old thinks instances of racism are becoming more rare in the English game, but he believes the problem is still prevalent in parts of mainland Europe.

"Things have been done here but not in Europe," he said. "I know that because I played for Lazio for six months.

"Obviously the (Italian football) association is trying to do things and try to say that things are improving. England has been a great example (to follow)."

Former England and Liverpool winger John Barnes, who was born in Jamaica, also had to deal racism throughout his career during the 1980s and 1990s.

The most famous incident he encountered came in 1988 when he was pictured backheeling a banana off the pitch which had been thrown at him by an Everton fan during the Merseyside derby.

Barnes, who was speaking on behalf of Vauxhall the England Team Sponsor, says society has to take its share of the blame for recent racist incidents in sport.

"Donald Sterling or the man who threw the banana - I don't blame them at all," Barnes said.

"I blame the environment they were brought up in. That has made them feel that way.

"The symptoms need targeting and not the individuals.

"We have been wrongly taught for the last 200 years that there are certain groups of people who are morally and intellectually superior.

"How can we blame Sterling for being the way he is? This is what he has been told all his life."

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