The recent controversy surrounding racism in football reached fever pitch amidst shocking scenes in last week’s U21 international between England
The recent controversy surrounding racism in football reached fever pitch amidst shocking scenes in last week’s U21 international between England and Serbia. Danny Rose was subjected to relentless racist taunts and “monkey” chanting throughout the match, and it culminated in a shameful scuffle between the players, followed by a red card for the Sunderland man as he kicked a ball into the crowd to vent his frustration just after the final whistle.
The disgraceful behaviour from the Serbia fans came in the wake of the police and FA investigations into the alleged racist abuse that Anton Ferdinand was subjected to from John Terry in the match between QPR and Chelsea on October 23 last year. Many black players across the Premier League elected to boycott the subsequent “Kick it Out” anti-racism campaign -which involved the players wearing T-shirts before the game to promote the cause this past weekend – and cited the fact that the FA and UEFA were generally not taking a tough enough stance on the matter. But really, what did this achieve?
Not for a second am I condoning racism. It is something that has sadly plagued football, and many parts of society, for centuries, and it is without question unacceptable. But I do find it curious that they snubbed the very crusade that is trying to help their cause. Rightly or wrongly, it has undermined the campaign and possibly even further isolated black players from white. The main fuel behind the black players’ argument was that John Terry received an insufficient punishment given the level of his misconduct, and signalled that the FA again had taken too “soft” a stance in fighting against racism. The fact of the matter is that amidst a heated exchange, John Terry referred to Ferdinand as a “black c%#t.” This can’t be tolerated, and it wasn’t.
Terry’s inexcusable actions aside, in a world where political correctness and diplomacy are of paramount importance, it isn’t always easy to know what is acceptable and what isn’t.
I sometimes struggle to understand the levels of sensitivity involved. As a young white person who grew up in a post-apartheid South Africa, I find myself very reluctant to comment on such matters for fear of unwittingly offending someone. I was even at odds with myself whether to post this article. But I shouldn’t feel too hard done by. My race has never known oppression, and has often been the oppressor. The acts of discrimination committed by white people in history have scarred other races immeasurably.
A sporting body like the FA needs to factor in such things. They have an enormous responsibility in taking the lead to fight off racism and ridding the game of outdated prejudices. However, this must make it all the more difficult when trying to measure the appropriate level of punishment warranted for such racial infractions. Last year Luis Suarez received an eight match ban and a £40,000 fine for alleged racial abuse aimed at Patrice Evra in the meeting between Liverpool and Manchester United at Anfield. The verdict was given with almost no evidence, and none of Evra’s teammates were able to provide a witness report. The ban was thus shelled out based on Evra’s statement alone.
This is not to deny that it actually happened. I for one am sure it did. And it is wrong. But why was John Terry only given a four match ban when there was stronger evidence to demonstrate his guilt? What was the process that led the FA to reach such differing levels of punishment? There seems to be a discrepancy between the two cases and it doesn’t make sense to me, further underscoring how difficult and complex this matter is to deal with.
There are wide calls for fans, players or managers guilty of racist behaviour to be banned. On paper, I’d go along with this. But where do we draw the line? Danny Rose has called for the banning of the Serbia FA as a whole. The fact that the Serbian FA has denied any racist chanting during the game, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, has not won them many friends. But is banning them really a justifiable punishment for the sake of a large section of idiots in the crowd? It’s a tricky one, but it is impossible to please everyone when administering sanctions.
The bottom line is that football is a game marred by excessive hooliganism and will forever be tainted by insults of all varieties. In the case of British football fans, many come from socially deprived areas. Their lives are characterized by unemployment, living on the dole and a lack of education, which unfortunately promotes this culture of so-called hooliganism. After all, ignorance breeds ignorance.
Bill Shankly once famously said “Football is not a matter of life and death. It’s much more than that.” Such legendary quotes have immortalised the man, but have also had an inflammatory effect, been taken too literally by some and created a doctrine amongst those less educated that football is more important than it actually is. In many ways, footballers benefit from this.
The adulation they receive from supporters holds them in the ilk of the gods. Not only that, but the astronomical levels of interest mean there is a lot of money involved, and the breath-taking wages Premiership players earn is an obvious benefit for all of them. Football is a religion to so many and footballers are gods amongst men.
The downside to all of this is that while fans worship their own players, they naturally dislike opposition teams and their players equally intensely. This has helped perpetuate some truly deplorable behaviour, and fans always find ways to demean opposition players. For example, Sheffield Wednesday’s Chris Kirkland was assaulted by a Leeds fan on the pitch during a Yorkshire derby on Friday evening. On Sunday, sections of the Sunderland fans shouted “Steven Taylor, we wish you were dead” when he came onto the pitch in Sunday’s Tyne-Wear derby in the wake of his comments referring to their squad. All of this in the space of a weekend!
So are many of the fans actually racists in the true sense of the word, or are they just in search of ammunition for their delinquent ravings? Is it pre-meditated hatred for the opposite race, or just inarticulate babblings to try derail a player for the sake of it?
It is unfortunately indicative of the unsavoury culture football has bred, and hooliganism and vile chanting are just a reality. Objectionable behaviour is rife among fans, players and even managers at times. Racism is very much a part of this, and it will be very difficult to stamp it out. That is not to say that the authorities shouldn’t fight against it. They should. It is a disgraceful aspect of football, and campaigns like Kick it Out must surely be a step in the right direction.
What worries me is that players who boycotted this might just be vilified even more in the eyes of the uneducated, narrow minded, hooligans that make up a significant portion of football’s following in the UK. Perhaps the campaign is well below par, and maybe the players are right to demand more of the governing bodies involved. I just hope that by exercising their right to protest against it, they haven’t done more harm than good.