The word ‘racism’ is a negative word that no business or industry wants to be associated with and this is no different in professional football. Consumers of football come in all different shapes and sizes, from different nationalities and ethnicities all over the world, as well as differing religions – football is supposed to be a game that breaks down these barriers and unites us all on one common ground.
These past two weeks we have seen two separate incidents of alleged racism made in two separate high profile matches in the English Premier League. Firstly we have all heard by now that Manchester United’s French international Patrice Evra has alleged that Liverpool’s Uruguayan International Luis Suarez called him a ‘nigger’ 10 times during the recent meeting between the two sides. And only in the past few days Chelsea’s England international captain John Terry has been the perpetrator of apparent racial abuse towards QPR’s English defender Anton Ferdinand.
As the land lies, both sets of allegations are with the FA to investigate separately and it will be up to clubs individually to launch their own investigations if they feel necessary, whilst there is also police involvement. Both cases are very different, but highlight a problem that still exists in football and also in society; racism. We all like to believe racism is a thing of the past, banished away due to the multi-cultural society we live in, but the harsh reality is that it is not.
I could talk about the players involved and how this wouldn’t be Terry’s first controversy on this subject, I could talk about the character of Suarez and how he carries a reputation for trouble, but we know all that. There is something bigger happening here than just two isolated incidents, it is just a subject we only talk about when highlighted because as a nation we choose to ignore the issues.
What we do not think about is that the generation from the 1950′s and 1960′s are probably the parents of many of today’s footballers, as well as the parents of the fans that support our clubs. On top of that you have a new generation of 20somethings who feel aggrieved at the influx of EU workers to this country and this age group make up a large percentage of devout football fans whether they attend matches or not.
We also should remember that many of the Premier League’s stars like Mario Balotelli and Peter Odemwingie have come from other countries where racism is rife and where they have been subjected to racist abuse. We also need to remember that people from openly racist countries like Spain, Italy and Russia are players in our Premier League.
There is no doubt English culture now finds racism intolerable public behaviour because that is the way our multi-cultural society tells us how to be, but it doesn’t change fundamental problems and opinions, it just hides them away.
In regards to football we have various anti-racism campaigns like ‘Kick it Out’, ‘Show Racism the Red Card’ and ‘Football Unites, Racism Divides’ to help raise awareness and also educate people about racism. These campaigns are in their infancy, as are class rooms full of children who grow up in an environment that is truly multi-cultural with equal amounts of kids from all religions and nationalities, Black, White, Mixed-Race and Asian.
It has been interesting to see the clubs reactions to the latest events; all clubs have made statements either officially or through team managers and yesterday Chelsea manager Andre Villa-Boas was quick to defend his captain John Terry over allegations of racism. AVB said “I find it strange when people don’t trust the words of a representative from your country”…basically he is proclaiming Terry’s innocence before there has been any investigation based on the fact he is captain of the England side. It is this kind of attitude that makes racism seem not a big deal, it is simply dismissed.
Call me a cynic, but over the past couple of months the team at Football Rascal have spoken increasingly more and more about football as a business. The Premier League is a world brand with a squeaky clean image, the clubs are aiming to become world brands themselves, but how many black people would want to support Chelsea if they have a proven racist for a captain? What if the punishment if found guilty of racism is not harsh enough and sends out a message that racism although frowned upon is tolerated…for me this has been the case so far.
Inside of the football industry I have encountered racism. Black players who have grown up in majority white English teams have learned to desensitise words like ‘nigger’ and will often joke with white teammates with reference to the word, its just the way it is and they know their teammates have no malice in what they say, but what if sometimes they do.
At Tottenham v Arsenal matches in days gone by, references were made to Spurs’ Jewish following from Arsenal fans, which Spurs fans embraced referring to themselves as ‘Yids’, which was recently condemned by Jewish football fan and media personality David Baddiel despite the fact it was desensitising the word, to it was still offensive to someone who is Jewish. This is racism.
These type of incidents seems to happily get swept under the carpet by many; It seems to have taken a high profile player being racist towards another high profile player during a live match to bring this to light. It is interesting how these current incidents seem to shock to people because the real issues are hidden away and not openly talked about.
For me racism is racism, the problem is we just don’t treat all incidents the same.
Maybe desensitising words is doing some good in breaking down barriers, but then if you can abuse people as banter with no ramifications how do you find the real bad apples? In 100 years racism maybe a thing of the past as a multicultural society will be the norm and days of all white English communities will be consigned to history, but there are problems to deal with now.
The Premier League and FA should make a big deal of this, but with my cynical hat on they are probably worried about damaging their brands reputation, but the reality is by dealing with the problems they could have even more worldwide appeal to both fans and players. Fans will see that everyone and anyone is welcome in the Premier League with no barriers and players who have to put up with racism in Spain, Italy, Russia or wherever will know they won’t be abused for doing their job here.
You have to admire countries like Spain, Italy and Russia because at least they admit there are widespread problems. Players aren’t afraid come out and speak out about the issues, letting people know the effect it has on them. Emile Heskey has encouraged players and fans to report incidents “because there is no place for it” in the modern game. Players and fans seem to be scared of doing this, but if we want to change things, attitudes need to change also.
We should remember racism has been part of societies makeup in this country for a long time, whether we want to admit it or not and we need to start discussing issues more openly and stop sweeping them under the carpet if we truly want to see a stop to racism and make sure that the punishment fits the crime.