The calls for an association of black footballers in the wake of anger over Kick It Out's failings are divisive and dangerous, warns Chris King.
The problem of racism has blighted English and European football over the past month or so, and thrown every aspect of the authorities' fight against it into the spotlight.
UEFA stands accused of limp-wristed punishments for major incidents of intolerance and abuse, and has appeared complacent, disinterested and ultimately ill-equipped to truly tackle those guilty of committing offences.
Kick It Out, founded as a campaign in 1993 which aimed to "kick racism out of football", is backed by the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) and the Football Association (FA).
It operates to challenge discrimination, promote equality and work in the community to bring about change at the grassroots level, while providing support to footballers suffering from prejudice in the game.
However, the organisation stands accused by figures including Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts of failing to do enough to protect black footballers from racial abuse.
Snub ... Roberts has denied leading the boycott of Kick It Out's "one game, one community" weeks of action t-shirt.
The latter in particular has vocally lambasted the organisation’s inability to prevent, and weakness in the face of, shameful occurrences of racism at the highest level of English football.
Luis Suarez’ repeated slurs against Patrice Evra earned him an eight match ban, while John Terry’s expletive-ridden comments towards Anton Ferdinand saw him found guilty by the FA and given a four game suspension.
Roberts in particular has pledged to continue his staunch opposition to Kick It Out’s weeks of action, which take place every year and see Premier League players don tops featuring the slogan “one game, one community”.
The Reading striker, 34, has also given tentative support to a six point plan created by the PFA, announced by chief executive Gordon Taylor.
This aims to stamp out a phenomenon described yesterday as “everywhere” by former Blackburn Rovers defender Christopher Samba. The points are:
1. Speeding up the process of dealing with reported racist abuse with close monitoring of any incidents.
2. Consideration of stiffer penalties for racist abuse and to include an equality awareness programme for culprits and clubs involved.
3. An English form of the “Rooney rule” – introduced by the NFL in America in 2003 –to make sure qualified black coaches are on interview lists for job vacancies.
4. The proportion of black coaches and managers to be monitored and any inequality or progress highlighted.
5. Racial abuse to be considered gross misconduct in player and coach contracts (and therefore potentially a sackable offence).
6. To not to lose sight of other equality issues such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Asians in football.
Yet despite the move, which the Kick It Out boycott in particular has undoubtedly precipitated and made necessary, support appears to be growing for a union designed to protect black players.
Arsène Wenger described the idea as “bad” in a statement, in which he added: “If you want to fight racism, you should not create any federation on a difference that you want to fight against. I can’t see the logic.”
The Gunners boss, I believe, is spot on in his assessment that a movement founded on racial lines is only going to institutionalise the type of split that organisations such as Kick It Out have long been trying to eradicate.
Peter Herbert, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, confirmed that talks have begun regarding the possible formation of a new black footballers’ association.
The idea had apparently been considered previously, but looked unlikely to materialise before widespread anger was prompted by Terry’s punishment, which has been widely regarded as too lenient.
Both the FA and politicians, including sports minister, Hugh Robertson, have called for unity. The MP said: “I can understand why feelings are running high but I don't think this is the moment for football to fracture.
“Kick It Out and other anti-racism bodies have moved things forward enormously and I think this is a moment to unite behind them and try and make sure that progress continues.”
PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle also opposes a split that would directly challenge the legitimacy of the grouping he heads. The former Queens Park Rangers defender said: “I don’t know what the full intentions are of this breakaway group.”
He added: “The threat is very real. It’s obviously something that has been mooted within the industry.”
Yet it was David Bernstein of the FA who summed up my feelings most accurately on the matter, by saying “I don’t think fragmentation is in anybody’s interest”.
I only hope that Roberts is trying to spearhead an attack on racism by the FA, PFA and Kick It Out that genuinely confronts the issue head on, and deals with incidents on a zero tolerance basis.
Football needs reform and progress, it does not need fragmentation, and to claim that it is in the interests of advancing equality to carve the sport in two along racial lines is foolish and dangerous.
The authorities have been complacent and, perhaps, too content to sit on England’s superior record of dealing with racism compared with many other countries on the continent.
Roberts pointed out, in a statement expressing support for the PFA’s proposals, “last year shone a light on the racism issue”. He is right, and now that it is in the forefront of public scrutiny, we cannot simply allow this light to fade.
Proposal ... the PFA's plans could see abusers like John Terry sacked from football.
Instant sackings may be too draconian a measure, and are perhaps better suited to being the highest sentencing bracket when dealing with a racist offence, but bans such as the one given to Luis Suarez should be the norm, not the exception.
He also referred to the proposals as being a “start”, which many would probably agree with. Those in charge of the game have been woken up and seem prepared to take the necessary steps to further the anti-racism cause.
They must be allowed to do this. A separate footballers’ body would be a disaster for the game and a blank cheque for the spread of intolerance and unequal treatment.
It would solidify boundaries and accept that the fight against racism has failed. Which it has not done, must not do, and will not do.