Saha calls for racism crackdown
The issue of racism in football was highlighted once again last weekend when a fan threw a banana at Brazil's Dani Alves during Barcelona's win at Villarreal.
Alves's response -- he peeled the banana and then took a bite -- sparked a widespread show of support for the player on social media, with fellow professionals and celebrities posting pictures of themselves with bananas.
Saha, who himself suffered racial abuse while playing in England and while with Italian giants Lazio, said the banana picture campaign had missed the point.
The one-time Manchester United favourite said football ought to follow the example of the National Basketball Association in the United States, which banned and fined Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling $2.5 million (�1.5m) for making a racist remark in a taped interview.
- 'Big message' -
"Football needs to start handing out those kind of fines," Saha, speaking at the launch of the Soccerex global convention in Manchester, said Friday.
"And believe me, people would change their behaviour if that happened. Right now (the authorities) are scared," the 35-year-old added.
"If (big fines) can be handed out to clubs whose fans are racially abusive then let's do it.
"That would be a big message to the world that this is not acceptable."
Saha, whose parents are from the French island of Guadeloupe, said he feared the reaction to the banana campaign masked a serious point.
"I am happy for this reaction, but I dislike the fact that we laugh about it. It's not funny at all.
"It looks like everyone is saying, 'we can't change anything, so let's laugh about it'."
Saha was racially abused twice during his four-year spell at Everton - firstly from the stands in 2011 and a year later on Twitter.
Nevertheless, he believes conditions for non-white players in England have improved significantly although problems remain in mainland Europe.
"Things have been done here but not in Europe," he said. "I know that because I played for Lazio for six months.
"Obviously the (Italian football) association is trying to do things and try to say that things are improving. England has been a great example (to follow)."
Former Liverpool and England winger John Barnes, who was born in Jamaica, experienced several virulent examples of racism when the problem was arguably at its height in the English game in the 1980s.
In one notorious incident in 1988, Barnes was pictured back-heeling a a banana off the pitch which had been thrown at him by an Everton fan during the Merseyside derby.
Barnes, speaking on behalf of England sponsor Vauxhall, said racist incidents could not be separated from the society that spawned such conduct.
"Donald Sterling or the man who threw the banana -- I don't blame them at all," Barnes said.
"I blame the environment they were brought up in. That has made them feel that way.
"The symptoms need targeting and not the individuals.
"We have been wrongly taught for the last 200 years that there are certain groups of people who are morally and intellectually superior.
"How can we blame Sterling for being the way he is? This is what he has been told all his life."