By TONY NGARE
Besides removing your pants and doing things whose effects could take you to the grave, this has got to be the heaviest fine a man can pay for fiddling with his underwear.
Denmark and Arsenal striker Niklas Bendtner was fined Sh 10.5 million (€100,000) by UEFA for exposing sponsored underwear during a goal celebration against Portugal. In doing so, UEFA have ‘confirmed’ that it would have been less if his pants had just featured a racist message.
Bendtner raised his shirt and lowered the top of his shorts slightly, revealing the name of a betting firm across the top of his underpants, after scoring his second goal in a 3-2 loss against Portugal last Wednesday. However, that small deed, though punishable under the UEFA laws, has clearly embarrassed European’s football governing body.
With Portuguese club Porto only receiving a Sh2m (€20,000) fine from UEFA for racist conduct by their supporters for subjecting the Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli to prolonged racist abuse in the Europa League, Bendtner’s pants have highlighted that UEFA’s main priority is ensuring that advertisers pay vast amounts of money — not that people can participate in or attend sporting events without being subjected to racism.
The Croatian FA has been fined a lesser amount for racist chanting at a recent Euro match. People have duly reacted against this disparity in punishments. A much-retweeted cynical comment laid it out thus: “ UEFA fines: Sh5.8m (£45,000) fined to Spain in 2004 for racism, Sh2.1m(£16,500) for Serbia in 2007 ( racism), Sh1.3 (£10,000) for Croatia in 2008 ( racism) and of course Bendtner’s strip show cost him Sh10m.
It was so laughable that even Rio Ferdinand, the Manchester United defender, wrote on Twitter: “Uefa are you for real?, £80,000(Sh10.5m) fine for Bendtner for underwear advertising.... all of the racism fines together don’t even add up to that.
Many people have responded with incredulity: how can UEFA be against racism and yet treat it less seriously than a bit of alleged ‘guerrilla marketing’? For the more world-weary, it was a cynical lament: of course the football authorities care more about money than social responsibility. In either case, the point is clear: UEFA’s priorities are out-of-whack. The Bendtner case is just further illustration of that hypocrisy.
But to bemoan the way in which UEFA’s ostentatious anti- racism is undermined by evidence of a comparatively more forthright attitude to enforcing corporate branding guidelines misses the point. Football has been privatised. Free speech — crucial to the public sphere – is now at the discretion of football bosses. Punishment can be as arbitrary as they like. The institutions, which run football have effectively privatised it.