Nudge Racism Out of the Game
Nudge behaviour is a concept of changing our actions through positive reinforcement or indirect suggestions. When Antonio Rudiger claimed he’d been abused by fans at Tottenham on 22 December 2019, the investigation brought no concrete conclusions. Is it time to change our approach?
After an extensive investigation, Tottenham revealed that the Metropolitan Police were unable to find any evidence to “corroborate or contradict” Rudiger’s claims of racism. Regardless, both Chelsea and Tottenham have clearly communicated their support for Rudiger and despite the lack of evidence, both clubs are keen to encourage players to continue coming forward if they believe they’ve experienced such abuse.
It’s also worth noting that a Chelsea fan was arrested for racially abusing Son at the same game. Sadly, reports of players experiencing racial abuse have increased over the last few years in British (and European) football.
Why? “It’s a societal problem”, is often the rhetoric you’ll hear from pundits and football lovers. But is this a bit of a cop out? An effort to distance our beloved game from such unsavoury behaviour.
Sure, there are rising tensions all over the planet at the minute. You only need to look on Twitter to see how divided we’ve become. But it does feel as though football stadiums (along with social media) are a safe space to direct hate - be it racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-semitism or any other type of hatred toward others.
When a club with Tottenham’s resources (CCTV, lip readers and TV footage) can’t come to definitive conclusion, it suggests one thing: an opportunity to get away with it.
Small solutions. Dramatic impact
A leading thinker on crime and crime reduction supports this theory. Tom Gash (political advisor, researcher and writer) has collected evidence which strongly suggests that small solutions can have a dramatic effect on criminal activity.
Case in point, by 1980 there was a vehicle theft epidemic across Europe, with over 100,000 motorcycle thefts a year in Germany alone. Rather than introducing stricter sentencing, the government made it illegal to ride without a helmet. Although seemingly small, this subtle change in the law caused the theft rate to drop by a quarter in two years. By 1986, motorcycle theft had dropped by two-thirds.
These laws were also rolled out across Europe and India with the same result. Similarly, as cars without central locking and alarms were taken out of circulation, the amount of car crime reduced significantly. Lesson one, don’t purchase a Nissan Sunny from the ‘80s. The key takeaway here is that most crime is unplanned and driven by opportunity. Tougher sentencing rarely works as a deterrent, because human beings are poor calculators and think in the short-term.
Nightclubs and fast food
If car theft is a little too abstract for your liking, let’s take a look at violence in bars and nightclubs. Venue owners were able to significantly reduce the number of violent incidents by subtly changing the environment.
Alcohol consumption was reduced, soft drinks were made cheaper and fast food made more available. The result? Violence plummeted. Venues also barred drunk people from entry, and incentivised security to create a welcoming (instead of intimidating) environment.
Experts such as Gash believe that crime can be reduced by manipulating the moments that turn us into criminals. So, can we apply this theory to football? If we do, we must first understand what makes a football stadium such a hotbed for abuse. Then we can work to manipulate the environment for the better.
The elephant in the room
Now, all the above is theoretically interesting. Potentially even inspiring. But there’s an elephant in the room. Atmosphere. And more importantly what happens to the atmosphere if you remove the abuse.
Paris Saint-Germain FC (PSG) had an incredible atmosphere. However, and crucially, this atmosphere was fuelled by internal fighting between two sets of ultras. On one side were PSG ultras of Arabic origin and on the other sat white ultras with fascist connections. On game day you would hear chanting from the stadium for miles. This noise fuelled by a bitter rivalry not of the opposition but for each other.
The point of no return
Unsurprisingly, tensions spilled over into violence time and time again. In March 2010, a member of the neo-fascist Boulogne Boys was killed in a factional dispute between PSG ultras. It was for this reason that PSG decided to ban both sets of supporters from the stadium. The results have been a great victory or a huge failure, depending on your metric for success.
Violence has all but vanished from the stadium. PSG is a welcoming environment for fans of all ages, races and other persuasions. But others will argue it’s killed the atmosphere.
Atmosphere or equality?
While it would be great to think that most fans agree that racism has no place in football, the scarier question is: are fans willing to sacrifice atmosphere in exchange for equality?
The work of Tom Gash shows that there may be some unusual solutions that preserve the noise we love, whilst eradicating the noise some of us hate. One thing is for certain; something needs to change.
Words by Christian Hurley and Nathan Ashley
Illustration by Matti Vandersee