White on White

David Runciman

I haven’t watched every game, and I may not have been paying attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen a single cutaway to a non-white face in the crowd at this tournament. I was particularly struck by this during the match between Croatia and the Czech Republic, when all the players were white too, along with the coaches and the officials. (There are no non-white referees. Does UEFA ever think about things like this? I doubt it.) That game was one of an increasing number at which violence has erupted in the stands. Croatia’s fans are notoriously racist but there were no ethnic minorities around for them to target; they beat each other up instead. Euro 2016 has been characterised by its white-on-white violence.

The Croatian team has not always been so ethnically homogeneous. Eight years ago the national side included the Brazilian-born Eduardo, one of the country’s most popular players, who had become a naturalised Croat when he was signed by the Dinamo Zagreb youth team. This seemed to mark the start of the diversification of European football, as players switched nationality at the same time that they moved clubs. (Eduardo had calculated that he was more likely to get into the Croatian national team than the Brazilian one; today that would not be such an obvious call.) It hasn’t happened – the melting pot never materialised.

I can’t remember a tournament with less diversity on view than this one. It is especially apparent among the teams from the fringes, west as well as east, south as well as north. The Iceland team contains no black players and neither does the Russian one. But nor does Spain or Italy. My seven-year old son asked me why the Icelandic players are all ‘Something-son’ and the Croatians are all ‘Something-ic’.

There are exceptions, of course. The French national side remains thoroughly diverse, as are the Belgian and Portuguese teams. But the real stand-out is England. If France win this tournament, there will no doubt be similar hopes and fears expressed as when the country won the World Cup that it hosted in 1998: can a rainbow team represent a nation riven by racial tensions? The ethnic mix of the French side remains a source of political controversy and potential animus. But for England it passes without comment. We take it for granted. By all accounts the England dressing-room is a pretty unified place. Even more striking is the bond that clearly exists between the team and the fans. England’s supporters tend not to be a mixed bunch, but they identify with a team that is.

Watching England’s fans at Euro 2016, it’s easy to make assumptions about them. I would be pretty confident that most of them think we ought to leave the European Union, which is one reason the Remain campaign must be pleased that England look set to progress to the next stage, which will keep many thousands of them in France beyond Thursday. Though more sinned against than sinning, a significant minority still like a fight. It’s tempting to think they represent the ugly side of the nation, at a time when our politics is as ugly as it has been for a generation. But that would be a mistake. Compared to much of the rest of Europe, the England on display at Euro 2016 is a country at relative peace with itself and with the forces of change that surround it.


  • 20 June 2016 at 11:52am
    guanchonazo says:
    I can understand that if you don't see any "black" player in a team, you can infer that the team is not diverse. But if one of the first team player's mother is of Japanese descent, and a substitute player's father is a World Champion with Brazil, what does that mean for that team's diversity? Are those two players "white"?
    However, I must concede that there are very few Spanish players with an "immigration background" in all categories, but the examples of Iñaki Williams in Bilbao, Munir in Barcelona or even Thomas in Atlético Madrid make me confident that the trend towards diversity in Spanish football is going in the right direction and will reflect eventually Spanish society. By the way, I can't think of Del Bosque leaving a player out of the squad for other reason than meritocarcy.

  • 20 June 2016 at 12:47pm says:
    Pretty glib explanation of what happened amongst Croatia fans during the Czech Repulic game. There's a whole backstory there about control of the national federation, which is currently in the hands of 2 men banned from involvement in domestic football due to embezzling funds from Dinamo Zagreb (and various other unsavoury charges including intimidating witnesses to the investigation into these initial charges), and the intention amongst some hardcore fan elements to sabotage the team as part of their opposition to that. That's likley far more of a motivation for the initial disruption of the Czech Republic game, with violence in the stands between those doing the disrupting and those wanting to stop them. No-one's denying the existence of racist elements and motivations amongst Croatian (and other) fans, but viewing the crown trouble you refer to as solely motivated by that is too narrow and ultimately just a way of confirming your own presuppositions about Croatia in general.

    And whilst it's true that the make-up of the England team isn't the subject of any national soul-searching, and that that says a great deal of positive things about English society overall, it's also worth remembering the behaviour of English club fans abroad in recent times (Chelsea on the French metro, to quote one pertinent example) before getting too carried away with that.

  • 20 June 2016 at 1:20pm
    David Timoney says:
    You can find some background on the Croatia situation here:

    I can't warrant whether it's wholly accurate, but as proscr1 says, there's more to this than just boneheaded hooliganism.

    Re the implications of England progressing beyond the 23rd, I suspect a victory will help Remain more because of optimism among the stay-at-homes than because of Brexiteers remaining in France. After all, the comitted ones will have arranged a postal vote.

  • 20 June 2016 at 1:30pm
    mototom says:
    A bit smug.

    The BBC (and ITV) clearly demonstrate that there is no shortage of intelligent, articulate, non-white, ex-footballers. You would not realise this if you looked at the ethnicity of the 92 league managers.

    We may be better than most, well we started before them, and we've still got a long way to go.

    How's the LRB getting on with women contributors?

  • 20 June 2016 at 2:49pm
    Locus says:
    UEFA could be a lot more proactive on this. A team like Iceland, which as Runciman points out, is strikingly non-diverse, could be assigned a number of appropriate players for their squad. Say 10 or 11 out of a squad of 23, that would be a reasonable proportion to begin with.

    • 20 June 2016 at 9:11pm
      highmore says: @ Locus
      I am not sure if you are joking. The Icelandic football team are non-diverse because the country is non-diverse. Iceland have not had the history of immigration (which, in turn, stemmed from a history of colonialism) that France, the UK, Belgium etc have had, and nor have they had the need to open their borders to immigration like the US. I think they have a 94% ethnically white (Norse/Celtic) population and the majority of the rest are Eastern European (according to Wikipedia, there are around 3,000 people in Iceland that list somewhere non-European as their country of origin, which would be around 1.5% of Iceland's population at most).

      Is that the fault of the government? I have no idea. Is it anyone's fault? Again, no idea. But it certainly isn't the fault of the Icelandic Football Association, and to get them to shoehorn in a wildly unrepresentative quota of different ethnicities into the national football team would be, frankly, bonkers.

    • 20 June 2016 at 10:44pm
      Locus says: @ highmore
      Perhaps some kind of "feeder" arrangement could be worked out, so that an inadequately diverse country like Iceland would partner long-term with somewhere like, say, Indonesia and Botswana.

      Each of those countries could be given, say, four places in the Icelandic squad. This would not only increase diversity, it would also provide a new route into European competition for footballers from historically disadvantaged nations.

      Once this issue has been properly tackled, then we might turn to the question of age discrimination. My research is not complete, but I have so far been unable to find any player over 40 represented in this year's competition.

    • 21 June 2016 at 6:59am
      highmore says: @ Locus
      OK. Now I think you are joking. Either way, that is wonderful.

    • 22 June 2016 at 9:24am
      Locus says: @ highmore
      Justice is not something I joke about.

  • 20 June 2016 at 7:19pm
    Stu Bry says:
    This is a strange article.

    Italy have several players in their squad who I would imagine meet David Runciman's definition of diversity. Angelo Ogbonna and Stephane El Sharaaway are from African backgrounds and Thiago Motta and Eder are transplanted Brazilians.

    Iceland is 95% Nordic and Celtic. Where does the author suggest Lars Lagerback find non white players?

    The England team is a fine and heartening example of a multi racial group but in rushing to back his own nation's back he seems to be blind to the fact that Asians - the biggest minority community - is completely excluded from the squad. England never capping a player from the long standing Indian, Bangladeshi, Pakistani or Chinese communities is surely a bigger issue than Slovakia or Iceland failing to will minority players into existence.

    "I can’t remember a tournament with less diversity on view than this one". The author must have missed the recent African Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup.

    • 21 June 2016 at 9:36am
      As Runciman's piece was not going to be printed, why bother to cut it?

  • 20 June 2016 at 9:39pm
    Dominic Rice says:
    Who are the non-white players Iceland and Croatia should have selected? Any names?

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