So what are we to make of the protest from players such as the Ferdinand brothers or Jason Roberts refusal to wear t-shirts supporting the Kick It Out campaign?

Today was supposed to be a day of focus for the campaign and all Premier League clubs had agreed to wear black shirts with ‘one game, one community’ written on them.  However, earlier this week Reading striker, Jason Roberts had declared he was not prepared to support the campaign, maintaining Kick it out “is not vocal or independent enough to tackle the issue head on, and does not truly represent my concerns.”

As of Friday, it was expected that Roberts would stand alone in this gesture but when it came to it neither Rio or Anton Ferdinand wore the shirts and at the Liberty Stadium none of the Swansea or Wigan players wore them.  Kenwyn Jones of Stoke also had his ‘protest’.  Swansea and Wigan players did not wear shirts as black players felt so strongly about it and their teammates all refused in solidarity.

So what is their gripe?

If the press is to be believed, Roberts thinks The FA, the game and Kick it Out in particular, is not doing enough to punish incidences of racism.  Ferdinand’s argument seems to be that John Terry did not receive a harsh enough punishment.  What we don’t know is what would have to have happened for Ferdinand to consider the punishment was acceptable?

Kick it Out (KIO) employs 5 people and its budget in 2010-11 was £453,913 with £330,000 of that coming from the FA, Premier League and PFA.  The argument is how can KIO be independent when almost 75% of its income is from the game’s governors?  But take that contribution away and a budget of £123,913 is unlikely to get you too far.  Consider KIO declaring its inability to make an impression, what would some of the suggestions be for them to raise money? 

“Why not ask the PFA for a contribution?”
“The Premier League should be doing more to help the campaign”
“The amount of money in the game, shouldn’t the PFA be contributing”

They could be an example of a couple of the tweets you’d expect on that question. 

So why aren’t players paying more for the campaign?  The accusation is that KIO are reluctant to call for sterner punishment in case The FA or the Premier League withdraw their support.  But surely a united KIO campaign stands more of a chance of making some waves and if they have the support of various high-profile footballers then maybe The FA or the Premier League would be too concerned with the backlash which a withdrawal could create.

But KIO is not united.  Many high profile players have publicly stated that the campaign does not speak for them.  So what next for KIO? 

Garth Crooks is an ambassador for Kick it Out and his BBC profile has enabled him to be called upon to comment on various racial disputes that have been in the public eye over the past few years.  Crooks began his playing career at Stoke City in 1976.  In 1980 Tottenham signed him and he formed a very productive strike partnership with Steve Archibald which lead to FA Cup wins in 1981 and 1982 as well as the UEFA Cup in 1984.  But Crooks was one of long line of black players in the 70’s and 80’s who were abused purely because of the colour of their skin.

Clyde Best (West Ham), John Barnes (Watford & Liverpool), Worrell Sterling (Watford), Bobby Barnes (West Ham), Cyrille Regis (West Brom), Laurie Cunningham (West Brom), Brendan Batson (West Brom), Tony Daley (Aston Villa), Mark Walters (Aston Villa), Viv Anderson (Nottm Forest & Man Utd), Paul Davis (Arsenal), Dave Bennett (Man City & Coventry), Ricky Hill (Luton), Paul Elliott (Luton & Aston Villa) are all players who played in the English First Division during the 70’s and 80’s and yet received fearful abuse simply because they were black.

Thankfully, now there are many more black players in our top division and many of them are so high profile people can see past the colour difference.  But there is clearly work to be done.  Back then, those players were crying out for some sort of public recognition for what they had to put up with every single week.  But few in the game were prepared to even admit it was happening, let alone be prepared to stand up and do something about it.

And that is the nub of the argument.  Twitter, forums and phone-ins are full of people who sit around and moan, yet that is one of the easiest things to do.  The hardest quality is to stand up and make a difference.  Ferdinand, Roberts et al may feel they were standing up for what they believe in, but where does that leave other black players who are not as lucky to receive the sort of profile these players enjoy?  For a League Two player, KIO represents an important campaign and the player’s lack of any sort of profile, means KIO becomes increasingly important.  But what has the public dissention of KIO done for that player?  Surely, Ferdinand and Roberts would’ve been far better discussing their grievances with KIO in private, yet maintaining public support.

Plus, the easy part was not wearing the shirt.  The hard part is doing more to combat instances of racism.  Not everyone who complains about something has the solution.  But no one else could’ve made the stand Ferdinand or Roberts made, could they?  What if Luis Suarez believed KIO wasn’t doing enough, do you think everyone would’ve defended his right to his principles?  Presumably the white players in the Swansea and Wigan teams were only allowed to ‘protest’ once their black teammates had given their blessing.

If KIO has a budget of less than £500m then yesterday’s day of focus would’ve taken up a large part of that.  They only have 5 employees and so to organise yesterday’s campaign would’ve taken all their resources and more.  Yet, their big day was hi-jacked by a couple of players who were making a stand.

I certainly applaud someone who discovers they have principles, but especially someone prepared to stand up for them, but it takes an even bigger man who can keep their eye on the big picture.  KIO can be left in no doubt that Mssrs Roberts and Ferdinand think they are not doing enough to eradicate racism from our game, so what more could they be doing?  Does this not leave the efforts of Crooks and Paul Elliott to be considered a complete waste of time and money and therefore ineffectual?  So what can Roberts and Ferdinand do to further this?  Perhaps they could provide KIO with some more money, perhaps give their own time?

Ferdinand’s manager, Sir Alex Ferguson was not too impressed with his player’s behaviour, which could be considered an act of petulance.  On Friday, Ferguson said in a press conference that all his players would wear the t-shirts.  When asked for his opinion of Jason Roberts protest he said

“When you do something, and everyone believes in it, you should all do it together.  There shouldn’t be a lone sheep wandering off.  I think he (Roberts) is making the wrong message.  All players are wearing it.  I have only heard Jason Roberts is different – but he is very different.  He plays a game and is in a studio 20 minutes after it.  That is a great privilege”

There can be few who could argue Rio Ferdinand has not done anything to help disadvantaged black teenagers.  I have no doubt Roberts does too, I just question whether they have really helped whole debate or just hindered it for their own ends.  The debate is now whether KIO is effective, rather than how much more football can do in the battle against racism.

Neither Roberts or Ferdinand have experienced the sort of abuse players like Crooks, Barnes and Cunningham received.  John Barnes even had to put up with banana skins being thrown at him.  He still remains the only player I can remember playing for England who was booed by his own fans, although that had less to do with the colour of his skin, and more to do with him being John Barnes.

Over the past 10-15 years the two players who have put up with the worst abuse are David Beckham and Joey Barton.  What do you think Beckham would’ve done with yesterday’s campaign?

David James, another player who came into the game during the 90’s when acceptance of black players was starting to emerge, believes things are not as bad as they once were.  No one really believes we should just rest on our laurels, but James is another player who could accuse the game of not standing up for him against vile abuse.

After today’s controversy, Crooks would not be drawn on the row

“Everybody at KIO will be grateful for SAF leading from the front with the campaign, but I hope he takes a little bit of perspective about Rio Ferdinand.  Rio is entitled to his view, he has gone through a tough 12 months with his brother.  Say what needs to be said in the dressing room and leave it at that.”

Where Crooks, Elliott and the rest of KIO go from here remains to be seen.  Hopefully they can garner the energy Roberts, Ferdinand etc have to give to this whole issue, and convince the game’s governing bodies that punishments really should fit the crime, although few can agree on what those punishments should be.