Racism in Football – Mind Your Langauge
So in the latest brainstorming session to overcome racism and ignorance amongst today’s football players the PFA have decided on another antiquated idea for tackling the problem – cultural awareness classes.
The classes normally reserved for young players, may now be rolled out to educate established Premier League stars on how to act in accordance with a so-called civilized and diverse society in Britain. They will include teaching players to understand racism and what terminology is deemed acceptable in the Premier and football league’s for incoming foreign signings such as Luis Saurez.
No doubt once the players have been guided through the course and graduated with flying colours, they will then be taught other wonderful cultural delights that plague modern-day football such as dogging, wife swapping, swearing at the referee, spitting (although some continental players may already possess this skill) and drink driving.
However, joking aside, Therein lies the problem for me. The fact that Racism still exists in the modern game and is far more prevalent than the British clubs, governing bodies and media would have you believe is no real surprise. Despite the knee jerk reactions and half-hearted efforts to cover the cracks, the problem will not go away until the people in power are reflective of an ever-changing Britain. There are far too many ex-players, managers and chief executives that possess the outdated mentality from a bygone era, they simply do not understand the younger generation, the cultural differences that now exist in the modern game.
This is why I cringed as I listened to Alan Hansen calling a player colored, Andy Gray’s sexist’s comments, John Terry’s blatant racist rant that both he and his club Chelsea tried to downplay, Liverpool’s reluctance to deal with the Saurez/Evra swiftly and effectively. No doubt the media will report on these issues until it no longer becomes newsworthy, but how do we deal with the problem unless an example is made by governing bodies to come up with a constructive and affirmative punishment that fits the crime?
Would it not act as a deterrent to actually sack a player for inciting racism?
This may sound drastic, but if you or I acted in this way in our workplace our employers are well within their rights to do this. For me this would send a clear message to the players and fans alike, that racism will not be tolerated. If Chelsea can sack and sue Adrian Mutu for £14.65m for a breach of contract after he tested positive for cocaine and given a seven-month worldwide football ban, then why can FIFA not impose a similar sanction for players such as John Terry or Luis Saurez should they be found guilty of racism?
In June 2010 David Villa signed for Barcelona and for the first time in football history an Anti-Racism clause was included in his contract.
“It is the first time that a contract has been signed with an anti-racism clause included as introduced by the European Club Association,” said former Barcelona president Joan Laporta.
“From now on we will include it in all new contracts.”
The anti-racism clause stipulates that ‘the player will not express or carry out, in any form, discriminatory ideas or acts, either during football games or in any club duties. The club will strongly condemn any discriminatory or racist act according to the agreement.’
The move was supported by “Kick it out” the campaign supported by the Premier League, FA and Premier League to rid the game of Racism. However despite the attention that this historic clause garnered in the media, I’m still waiting to hear any big announcements from the clubs involved in the current scandals. Will they look to implement this clause in all their future contracts and more importantly act in reprimanding players accordingly if they perpetrate any racist or discriminatory acts?
The world is changing, but a game which is promoted globally to falsely highlight the unity between race, religions and culture is still stigmatised with the same old values that have plagued our society for decades. The mentality of those in charge at FIFA, the FA, Premier League and within the media has not evolved. How can it when Sepp Blatter is still the figure-head of world football. Rather than effectively deal with the issue of racism, the rhetoric is just tweaked to what those in power feels fits the criteria.
My solution would be to give youth a chance and let a new generation prosper in changing how football is run, governed and promoted. Maybe I will get labelled as being ageist, but as a white Irish photo journalist and director of my own business, I am well aware of the ignorance that is still widely accepted within football. Before setting up my own photo agency I worked for one of the UK’s leading wire agencies and was asked by my sales manager at the time if I could speak with a leading black football agent who represented many of the elite black players in the Premier League. I was then told that my Managing Director had requested that I speak with the agent as I was
“Used to speaking with them, because you are you are going out with one of them” stated my then sales manager with a smile.
My girlfriend at the time and now my wife is mixed race, her mother is Zimbabwean and her father Scottish. Safe to say this comment did not sit well with me and I was very offended. To the best of my knowledge I had not disclosed my personal details to my former boss. I was not happy, but retorted with a smile “But my girlfriend is not a football agent?”
This was in 2002 and indicative of the same small-minded mentality that I and no doubt many others were subjected to when playing football as a kid in the late 70′s and early 80′s. My best friend was Nigerian and fantastic striker. I always riled me that the coach referred to him as “Black Magic” yet the other striker on our team very fast white kid was never bestowed the same dubious honour of being called “White Lightning?”
So in 2012 the problem remains the same, young Oldham defender Tom Adeyemi became the latest victim on Friday night as a small section of Liverpool fans hurled abuse at him. The player was visibly upset and following Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s failure to deal with the Suarez affair effectively, the player from Uruguay appears to have become a cult hero for all the wrong reasons.
However, it’s all to easy to castigate Suarez and make him the scapegoat in the fight against racism, after all he is a foreign player who does not understand the niceties of British culture or does he. His attitude is part of the problem, but not the root cause. For far too long racism, sexism and general foul-mouthed behaviour within football has only come to the publics attention because of a stray microphone being switched on, a lip-reading specialist taking offence or a fan reporting the incident to the police. The clubs, managers and governing bodies need to take up a zero tolerance attitude to try to overcome these problems that are endemic in the game and stop turning a blind eye in case.
The record of British Football’s racist exploits does not make for pretty reading. One can go back further, but if we look at the modern game, at the last beginning of the last decade a drunken Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate kicked off the roll of shame by assaulting young student Sarfraz Najeib in a racially motivated attack, leaving him for dead. Much criticism was directed at Leeds Untied and the legal system as the players got away with a slap on the wrist.
Since then we have had to endure Ron Atkinson’s demise following his racist comments of then Chelsea player and French international Marcel Desailly, having called him a “Lazy N****r”, John Terry’s verbal attack on Anton Ferdinand and Liverpool’s latest foray into race relations. I only hope that the new pilot scheme that will be implemented by the PFA can go someway towards ridding the game of racism, after all we are not born racist, it is a prejudicial attitude that is learnt. So to counter act this, education is key to overcoming this stigma within football.
My only fear is that trying to acquaint some Premier League players the finer points of social and cultural etiquette is Akin to teaching a dog to start cleaning up after themselves once they have gone to toilet.
I do hope we can move forward from the current out dated mentality and that the cultural awareness classes do not resemble a cult educational comedy classic “Mind your language” that served as the reference point for the British public to understand the subtle nuances between our ‘foreign friends.’
Only time will tell.