(Watch the video of the chants that led to a stoppage in play during a soccer match in Belgium here.)
Racism has long been a serious issue in European soccer stadiums, triggering widespread campaigns to root out taunting, heckling and cheering that goes over the line from competitive banter to discriminatory, and sometimes violent behavior.
Results have been effective in some stadiums and slow to come in others, but incidents like the one that took place during Saturday’s match between Belgian clubs Lierse SK and Beerschot should serve as a reminder that cultural sensitivity is still lacking in the world’s most popular sport.
Saturday’s match was temporarily halted by the referee after visiting Beerschot fans began berating Lierse SK’s Japanese goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima with chants of “Kawashima, Fukushima!” referencing the natural disasters that devastated northeast Japan.
After the brief delay, the match resumed and eventually ended in a 1-1 draw, but the impact of the chants lingered for Kawashima, who left the field in tears.
“Using the drama of Fukushima in this manner is not at all funny,” he said.
Kawashima issued further comments Sunday on his blog:
“I do not care about getting heckled. Playing here, it is common to be called names or having water poured at me from behind the goal. But at a time when Japan is working hard to fix itself after the great damage (incurred by the March 11 disasters), and to use that as a pretext (to jeer) is unforgivable.”
According to a Wall Street Journal article, Beerschot condemned the actions of its fans but also suggested Kawashima provoked the jeers with gestures during the match.