Danish FA hails the Superliga as the “most tolerant” league in Europe

DBU thanks country’s media for its positive contribution to tackling racism in football

The year 2012 saw a plethora of reports from the European press on racism in football, especially from the Premier League in England. Denmark, on the other hand, hardly seemed to have any.

“That’s because Danish football has the most tolerant league in Europe,” Lars Behrendt, the communications chief for the Danish FA (DBU), told The Copenhagen Post. “There is no racism to be found here.”

Behrendt is not alone on this position. FC Nordsjælland defender Jores Okore, whose parents migrated to Denmark from the Ivory Coast, has never seen it as a problem.

“I’ve grown up playing football in Denmark from a very young age,” the 20-year-old said. “And I’ve only been welcomed by Danish fans with open arms. Never have I been subjected to racism.”

According to Behrendt, a big reason why racism is rarely an issue in Danish football is the open-minded approach Danes have towards foreign players and the rational way the press puts isolated incidents into context. 

“The Danish media deserves a lot of credit as well,” Behrendt explained. “I think that a lot of other media outlets outside of Denmark have a tendency to sensationalise small events to get a story. We do very little of that here in Denmark.”

Thomas Delaney, a half-Danish, half-American midfielder at FC København, agreed. 

“Racism seems to be a bigger problem in other countries,” Delaney said. “The English Premier League may be having an issue with it lately. But then it’s the media that dictates the nature of the game − I think that plays a big part. They have to write about something after all.”

The BBC’s Panorama documentary ‘Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate’, for example, was heavily criticised by interviewee Jonathon Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish Community Centre in Warsaw. Speaking to British newspaper the Guardian, Ornstein directly accused the channel of “exploiting him as a source” and “sensationalising” the issue.

Danny Lynch, the press officer of the anti-racist organisation ‘Kick It Out’, conceded that the issue of racism seems to be all the rage within the British media at the moment.

“There is a level of sensitivity in the press that might not have been there a few years ago,” Lynch admitted. “The minute an incident occurs that could be related to racism, we get a whole host of journalists looking for a comment. And part of that reason has to do with the press’s tendency to over-exaggerate an event, while not necessarily acknowledging the progress that has been made over many years when an incident occurs.”

The apparent lack of racist sensitivity in the Danish press is something that Behrendt is very grateful for, and one he hopes will not develop in Denmark.

“Racism is definitely a serious subject,” Behrendt explained. “But it’s also dangerous to make mountains out of molehills, especially when the issue is much more of a concern in other countries.”

 Piara Powar, the executive director of ‘FARE Network’ (Football Against Racism in Europe), was also of the opinion that an over-sensitive media can often distract from the larger picture.

“The main problem is that stories become too insular-based,” Powar told The Copenhagen Post. “What happens is the press become overly obsessed with the likes of Luis Saurez and John Terry, leaving the real problems in Italy, Hungary and Bulgaria largely ignored and unreported.”

The Bulgarian Football Association, for example, was earlier this month punished by FIFA after a section of the Bulgarian crowd racially abused Danish defender Patrick Mtiliga during a 2014 World Cup qualifier in Sofia in October. The Bulgarian FA was fined €30,000, and the national team will have to play its next qualifying game on March 22 against Malta in an empty stadium.

The abuse on the pitch did not receive a great deal of attention from the European press as a whole. However, Jan Jensen, the sports editor of Esktra Bladet, insisted that the lack of coverage doesn’t automatically mean journalists are doing a bad job.

“A country’s media will always have a certain focus on their own country,” Jensen said. “An insular approach isn’t necessarily a bad one. Danish football was riddled with racism some 15 years ago. But it’s intense focus on racism in the media that results in discrimination being stamped on the minute it rears its ugly head. So there’s nothing wrong with what the British press are doing. How can there be?”

Whether a less sensitive Danish media plays a large part in Denmark’s success against racism or not, Powar did take time to congratulate the DBU for the manner in which it has used football to help integrate a multicultural society − a strategy that countries like Bulgaria and even England could very much benefit from.

“We need to put the subject into context,” Powar explained. “The Danish League is a very young one compared to the English one for example. But what Denmark has done very well is use the sport as a means to be inclusive of all backgrounds and nationalities. And that’s had a great effect.”

And it’s players like Okore who are living proof that Denmark, like Behrendt claimed, has one of the most tolerant leagues in Europe. 

“I play for the Danish national team,” Okore said. “That would never have been possible if this country weren’t a tolerant one. I have only ever seen Danes as open-minded people. And I’m a prime example of that.”