The week in which the Roma jokes went too far

In less than a week three incidents involving football fans humiliating Roma beggars in Spain and Italy have become representative of a long list of spontaneous demonstrations of anti-Roma sentiment in football and European society.

On Tuesday (16 March) PSV Eindhoven fans were filmed in Madrid's main plaza hurling coins onto the floor in front of several Roma women, and then cheering when the women picked up the money.

A day after, images emerged of Arsenal fans allegedly replicating the Dutch fans behaviour and mocking a disabled migrant beggar on the streets of Barcelona. A video was shared on social media showing an Arsenal fan pretending to drop a note in the man's hat, while another supporter goes around the group begging for money and laughing.

On Thursday (17 March) moments before the UEFA Europa League match between Lazio and Sparta Praha, Czech supporters were filmed urinating on a begging Roma woman.

All three incidents were perpetrated by groups composed of mostly white male fans who had the resources to travel to foreign cities to watch football and to mock those in poverty and ridicule the Roma.

In an unrelated incident that shows how deep the strain runs, the Ukrainian Serie A player Vasyl Pryima disparagingly referred to Italian players as gypsies "because you just touch them and they fall" in an interview this week.

Anti-Roma humiliation outrages Spain
The Madrid incident caused outrage across Spain. Human rights and anti-discrimination organisations, Roma associations and government authorities condemned the incident and called for the persecution of the fans involved in action.

Fare member Federación de Asociaciones Gitanas de Cataluña (FAGiC) said: “What we witnessed in Plaza Mayor is a reminder of the discrimination faced by Europe’s largest ethnic minority. Across Europe, Roma people are marginalised and victims of segregation, discrimination and poverty.

“We are dismayed that this was amusing to anyone, let alone people from a wealthy European nation that have never experienced the lives of the Roma, whom they have attempted to humiliate.”

Madrid-based anti-racist group Movimiento contra la Intolerancia (MCI) called on public prosecutors and the Spanish Supreme Council of Sports to punish the fans involved in the incident for their “humiliating racist behaviour”.

MCI President Esteban Ibarra said: “The degrading and humiliating actions of PSV Eindhoven fans in Plaza Mayor towards a group of Roma beggars, which were followed by insults and racist expressions, are criminal offences prosecutable by the Spanish Penal Code, established to act upon those who damage the dignity of individuals and groups due to their ethnicity or nationality”.

Madrid mayor Manuela Carmena and the Interior ministry Jorge Fernández Díaz considered the behaviour of PSV supporters "embarrassing" and labeled it as "practices that incite hatred". Spain's Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy also joined the condemnation and said the incident should be followed up by respective authorities.

In less than a month, on 8 April, the international community will celebrate the International Roma Day to focus on Roma rights. It is needed in football more than ever.

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