Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Suddenly, and it's about time, too, the connection between racism and soccer has been coming up in the news. For years, in stadiums across Europe, fans have made "uuh, uuh, uuh" monkey noises whenever a black player from the other team touched the ball. Occasionally they throw bananas on the field, too. It is also not unusual for highly offensive racist insults to be thrown at individual black players, much as was true for the Jackie Robinson generation of black baseball players in the US.

The black players are beginning to get pissed off about this, and so are the more responsible elements of the soccer world. Joan Laporta, Barça's competent and fairly enlightened president, has made noises and taken some action regarding Barça's fascist hooligan squad, the Boixos Nois, for example. Unfortunately, he hasn't just banned them all from FC Barcelona property, which is what he needs to do. Meanwhile, the Boixos Nois thugs have made death threats against him for the actions he's already taken.

The shit hit the fan a few weeks ago when England's national team played Spain's in an exhibition game in Madrid, and the English black players were targets of racist invective. Then, in Barcelona's Camp Nou, Madrid's Roberto Carlos, a black Brazilian, was the target. Barcelona's Etoo and Ronaldinho, from Cameroon and Brazil respectively, were then racially abused when Barcelona played in Getafe, a Madrid suburb.

Now, let's give the players from Getafe, who are mostly white Spaniards, some credit. They didn't like what their fans did at all, so they've decided to make a statement against racism. This is a laudable effort, since these Getafe guys are not international superstars, they're working-class Spanish jocks, and they are influential in their communities as individuals, being guys who have made it. They're looked up to and admired by both kids and their peers, and here they are using that influence to make a public gesture against racism. They're not going out and getting drunk and fighting with the cops and getting busted for drugs like so many jerk athletes do, they're taking a principled stand on an important issue.

The problem is what they've decided to do is play their next home game in blackface. That's right, they're all going to black up with shoe polish, in solidarity with the black players, and go out and play their next game. I can't wait to see this. The sentiment is laudable. Its expression is maybe just a little inappropriate.

Meanwhile, the other big sports stink around here is another bit of Catalooniness. See, the responsible, level-headed Catalanistas have already gotten pretty much everything they want, from control over the health service in Catalonia to control of the police to the almost-exclusive use of Catalan in the schools and the civil service to language restrictions requiring the use of Catalan in certain situations to subsidies for Generalitat-approved performers and alleged artists to having their very own TV and radio network. There's not that much more they can ask for short of outright independence. (Note: I support small government. I like it when power is exercised by elected officials at the most local level possible, whether municipal or regional. The Cataloonies don't, as a rule, really support small government. They support a strong, centralized Catalan government.)

So what the Cataloonies do, when there's nothing serious to get all mad about, is pick up something merely symbolic and make a big deal out of it. Some examples are: Which flag should fly over the city hall, only the Catalan or the Spanish flag too? Why doesn't the government send old Catalan government archives back to Catalonia instead of keeping them with the rest of the old government archives in Salamanca? Why do the highways in Catalonia have the same numbering system as the highways in the rest of Spain? (They actually changed this, confusing everybody and costing umpteen million dollars.) Why do the car licence plates carry an E for España on them instead of a C for Catalunya? I mean, who gives a shit?

The latest big whooptedoo is over national sports teams. See, for example, Sweden and Slovakia and Lithuania have national sports teams. Why doesn't Catalonia have national sports teams too? The answer is, of course, the same reason as Brittany and Bavaria and Sicily don't have national sports teams. Gotta draw the line somewhere or you wind up letting in everybody and his dog. But, anyway, the Cataloonies managed to get the international roller-hockey federation to consider allowing Catalonia to compete on its own, or, more accurately, they managed to get their followers all excited about the possibility that this would happen. Of course, the roller-hockey people turned them down. This became big news. The Cataloonies immediately announced that this was all because of evil Spanish pressure. As if anybody else cares about goddamn roller-hockey.

Here's my suggestion for the Cataloonies. If you look through the classified ads in any Spanish paper, you see dozens (in La Vanguardia, hundreds) of advertisements for prostitutes. These prostitutes, or, more accurately, their madams and pimps, often announce that they will perform exotic acts upon you, and these exotic acts are normally referred to by the name of some foreign country. I suppose you can imagine, for example, what "un francés" (a French) is, and I'll bet you can figure out "un griego" (a Greek) too. There are some others that I haven't figured out (e.g. "un tailandés", a Thai, or "a Burmese", or "a Cuban").

Well, if you guys want some international recognition, why don't you introduce "a Catalan"? Invent your own exotic act and begin to practice it internationally so that the entire world will learn about it. That'll get you some recognition, and plenty of it.

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