October 17th, 2008
04:40 PM ET

To boo or not to boo?

The long-established right of football fans to barrack and jeer and vent their frustrations was drawn into question by two separate international incidents in this week's World Cup qualifying matches. [cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/17/art.crowd.afp.gi.jpg caption="Fans at the friendly between France and Tunisia this week jeered through the French national anthem."]

First up was Ashley Cole during England's 5-1 win over Kazakhstan at Wembley. The Chelsea left back was subjected to a continual chorus of boos after making a disastrous error which handed the visitors a goal at a crucial period during the second half.

Stand-in England captain Rio Ferdinand was quick to jump on a bandwagon saying the disgruntled fans "should be ashamed of themselves" and other teammates also rallied round Cole, who it must be said is hardly the most popular member of the England squad after his well-publicized indiscretions on and off the field.

Fans might have forgiven him for apparently engineering a lucrative move from Arsenal to Chelsea, earning him the nickname "Cashley," or his alleged cheating on his popular British popstar wife, but the final straw was his abject back pass to an opposition player who could scarcely believe his luck.

Having paid a small fortune in these credit-crunch times to buy a Wembley ticket, might not fans might feel entitled to let off a little steam as England labored to beat the world's 131st-ranked team whose combined weekly earnings probably don't match those of Cole?

I would not have been among those jeering Cole - well, perhaps only for a moment - but if the fragile egos of our multi-million-pound footballers cannot stand a few catcalls then heaven help them in the more pressurized atmosphere of the World Cup finals.

Three days later and a furious row erupted as the French national anthem was drowned out before the start of a "friendly" international against Tunisia at the Stade de France in Paris.

The majority of the crowd was of North African origin and it did not appear to affect the French too badly as they ran out 3-1 winners.

But the snubbing of "La Marseillaise" infuriated French politicians and dignitaries who attended the match: the sports minister was summoned to meet president Nicolas Sarkozy, who himself called the incident "scandalous."

The solution seemed heavy-handed in the extreme as ministers and sports officials threatened to call off matches on the spot if such scenes were repeated.

UEFA chief Michel Platini said the idea was "absurd," a rare moment of clarity from the former French international hero who recently criticized English teams for losing their identity by playing too many foreign players while neglecting to point out that he had spent much of his playing career playing in Italy for Juventus with a host of other overseas players.

French Communist Party leader Marie-George Buffet, a former sports minister, offered an analysis that is even more uncomfortable for Sarkozy and his government.

"So we stop the match, then what? Is it going to solve the problem of these men and women who in a way are expressing that they don't feel right in our country?" she said.

All this in a week when European governing body UEFA finally acted decisively to deal with the totally unacceptable racist chanting that occurred in Atletico Madrid's Champions League game at home to Marseille.

Racist, sexist and homophobic chanting clearly has no place in civilized society. Other forms of barracking used also to be tolerated, but for how much longer?

Over to you: Is booing taboo? Should it be banned?

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Filed under:  Football