Racism, a thing of the past? No and it's unlikely it ever will be. Governing bodies must pay a lot more than lip service to tackle this problem!

Ferdinand in 2009/10 New Home Kit                                                             Ferdinand Backed Roberts's Stand

Racism in football has become a hot topic in recent times, particularly in England but also across Europe.  There have been several high profile incidents over the last couple of seasons where the issue of race has been a factor and allegations of racism against players and fans have been reported and investigated, leading to various consequences for those involved.

Luis Suarez was handed and eight game ban by an F.A. disciplinary committee for an incident with Patrice Evra, despite the case boiling down to one man’s word against the other’s. John Terry, on the other hand, was only given a four game ban for using racist language against Anton Ferdinand, even though the words spoken by the disgraced former England captain were clearly caught on camera, providing clear evidence of what was said. Suarez’s charge was brought immediately and after a month long “investigation” the F.A. went ahead with a show trial before condemning the Uruguayan and handing out the lengthy ban which was then served.

In Terry’s case however, the F.A. chose, and this is the key point, they chose to allow a police investigation rather than investigating themselves. The case dragged on for months, it was postponed, Terry was named in the England squad for the Euros with the allegations hanging over him and many felt that Rio Ferdinand, the victim’s brother, was passed over for the tournament in order to avoid conflict within the squad.

When Terry’s case was finally heard in court, his legal team used the full extent of the law to get their client off the charges. Terry won his case in court, however, the F.A.s hand was then forced into finally taking some action against their former poster boy, mainly due to the fact that the court of public opinion, having seen the  video evidence, had convicted the Chelsea player almost whole heartedly. The ban that followed was half that given to Suarez and, due to the F.A.s unwillingness to pursue the case initially, the delays, the fact that Terry represented England, his line of defence in court, his penchant for bending the truth and the severity of the language used, many, both inside and outside the game, felt that the punishment was far too lenient for the offence committed. What’s more many onlookers were left with the feeling that the whole episode had been farcical and could easily have been avoided had the F.A. had the courage to do its job in the first place.

The decision last weekend, in the wake of the John Terry affair and other F.A. failures, by Jason Roberts, Rio Ferdinand, Joleon Lescott and many other Premier League players to refrain from wearing T-shirts in support of the F.A. and P.F.A. sponsored anti-racism charity “Kick-it-Out”, has brought racism in the game right back to the top of the agenda. The protest was not against the charity itself but against the authorities who are meant to support it and lead by example. The issue this time however is whether the F.A./P.F.A. really want to rid the game of racism or whether they are simply  paying the cause lip service .

The big surprise for me, when the issue first exploded back into the public consciousness in late 2011, was the  shock with which the alleged racism was reported. It was as if the press, footballing authorities and some of the general public actually had thought that racism, both in society and football, was a thing of the past. As if they arrogantly believed that it was something that had been dealt with a long time ago, had almost been forgotten about and was almost certainly soon to be confined to history. Not so; racism/xenophobia, whatever you wish to call it occurs naturally in the human psyche. It is not something can be taken away, it is something that has to be overridden by education and personal experience, and this education must begin at a very young age and continue with every generation.

The level of overt racism from fans has declined hugely over the last twenty-five years or so. Gone are the days of banana’s being thrown at black players or of monkey chants being aimed at them on a regular basis, but racism is still there and complacency on behalf of the authorities is a casual racist’s best friend. There have been several instances recently of fans aiming racist abuse at players on Twitter, including at Papiss Cisse and Stan Collymore. Attempting to hide behind keyboard doesn’t make the crime any less despicable. At a time when the BNP are gaining ground, when xenophobia and islamophobia are on the rise, when Europe seems to be lurching to the right, now is the time that Kick it Out and the other anti-racism charities (not just in football) need the support of those who fund them and claim to be fully behind them.

Kick it Out and other charities such as Show Racism the Red Card have done some fantastic work in raising awareness and carrying the message that racism is not to be tolerated in football, however, they can’t be expected to do it all on their own. They must be backed up sufficiently by the F.A., the P.F.A. and the government.

Kick it Out only employs five permanent full-time staff. Funded by the F.A. and the P.F.A. their budget is a miserly £300,000 a year, slightly more than John Terry earns in a week. This budget is to cover the entire game in England, from grass roots level all the way up to the Barclays Premier League. Yes they do good work and have done so in the past but how can they be expected to advance the cause in the best possible way with such monetary restrictions? Considering the amount of money in the game, it’s shameful to think that an organisation doing its best to promote an end to discrimination in the country’s number one sport has to work of such a paltry sum. If the football authorities are serious about tackling racism or at the very least, want to be seen to be serious about taking it on, this figure needs to multiply and rapidly.

The government has its part to play here too. Show Racism the Red Card, a Newcastle based anti-racism charity is threatened with having to close its doors after fifteen years of exemplary work in its field. The charity works with schools, using football and other sports stars to deliver a strong anti-racism message to kids from a young age, exactly the kind of work which desperately needs to be done on a much larger scale. Despite diversifying and spreading its funding to try to stay afloat, the charity is in a major hole and needs government funding to continue its work. Show Racism the Red Card currently receives funding from the Scottish government but not from the British government at Westminster. The group employs twenty-five full-time staff around the country and has had support from Thierry Henry and Alan Shearer.

Chief executive Ged Grebby said recently in an interview with ChronicleLive.co.uk:

“We have diversified our funding quite a lot and that’s why we’ve been able to survive in the current climate.

 “ ….if the Government were not to support us that would mean we would have a very serious financial problem.

“We need to get out there and get on with combating the problem of racism, not just within the game but as a society as a whole. If we don’t have the troops on the ground then society isn’t going to be able to move forward.”

You would think that this is a cause the government ought to support, given the excellent and increasingly vital work the charity does and particularly in light of the strong stance taken by the government when condemning the recent behaviour of Serbian fans during their country’s U21 match with England last week. Quite simply, it’s time for the Tories to put their money where their mouth is on this issue or risk similar scenes from England fans of the future.

Blaydon MP Blair Anderson has urged the government to “pull their finger out” and went on to say that the work done in schools is vital in the fight against racism.

“Ultimately it’s the young people that can make a real difference.

“The more we can get young people to understand the issues around racism the more likely it is to become a way of life.”

THERE IS MORE TO LEARN

             Ferdinand image by SuperMF. There is more to learn image by jacquesy_m

These comments further reinforce the point that racism is something that must be overridden by education and tackled at a young age before prejudice has time to form and fester. More money must be spent on these charities, not less. Racism is not something that can ever truly be said to have been defeated, it has many different facets and can take on a variety of forms, both covert and overt. As long as humans continue to be born, racism will be a problem, the process of conquering it is continuous and never-ending and it is our responsibility to ensure that our commitment to the cause never wanes. It is this that must be understood, by the F.A./P.F.A, by the government, by the media, by fans and by the public at large.

Former Newcastle defender John Anderson, a member of Show Racism the Red Card, summed this point up perfectly.

"We’ve come such a long way. I think the Government has got to realise that everything we have done up to now wouldn’t be worth anything unless we continue."

"We’ve come such a long way. I think the Government has got to realise that everything we have done up to now wouldn’t be worth anything unless we continue."