When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in 1994 he set about a policy of reconciliation. After his release from prison in 1990, after serving 27 years, he was instrumental in breaking down the oppressive regime of Apartheid which had existed in South Africa since 1948. Once released he was met by a vociferous section of the black community who saw their opportunity to exact revenge on the ‘white-man’ for over 40 years of brutal oppression. During Apartheid, a black person could only travel in Third Class carriages on public transport, could not walk on the same side of the street as a white person, and could not live in the same part of town. They were also refused certain jobs and were ordered to only attend sporting arenas when allowed and had to watch from one part of the ground. They were considered worse than 2nd class citizens in ‘their own country’, as they saw it, and one can hardly blame them for wanting to get their own back.
But Mandela’s message was simple. It is the activity (Apartheid) which is wrong, not the people who obey it. His warning to Black South Africa was that their country could only move forward if they moved forward together as one. Just ‘getting your own back on the white man’ simply relegates the blacks to the level of being no better than the white man. It is the activity which is wrong, so if the black man wants to carry out that activity he should be considered as wrong as the white man before him.
It was a tough sale, and one few in history could’ve pulled off. But Mandela is no ordinary man and he accomplished his mission to have both black and white to work alongside each other. The success of this was evidenced when he presented the South African rugby captain with the World Cup in 1995. A symbol seen as completion of his reconciliation policy.
Why mention this?
Well, it is to compare the need for a Black players Union which the Ferdinand brothers have suggested. If ‘Rio’s Rule’ or ‘Ferdys’ Law’ is to be implemented then it is assumed to give Black players more rights than they are currently receiving through the PFA. It is the democratic right of an individual in politics, for example, that if they do not like what is being done on their behalf, they can either put themselves up for election or set up their own party.
However the PFA, as it stands, is not an exclusive club. It does not discriminate over its membership. If you have a professional contract with a football club, you have the right to pay to be a member of that union and they will look after your interests, in the best interests of the profession as a whole.
The Black Players Union (BPU) – which is my name for it, not anything official, is purely an exclusive club whereby anyone can join, pay their membership fees and be represented – as long as they are black.
Now, of course what the Ferdys’ were thinking of setting up may not actually be a union and therefore not be in direct competition to the PFA. They may just be setting up another rival to the Kick it Out (KIO) campaign. At the weekend, Rio and Anton Ferdinand were two of several players who refused to wear a shirt in support of KIO. They argued KIO did not represent their views and had not worked hard enough against racism in football.
One option open to the Ferdinands is to take over the running of KIO and make sure it did start to make changes to the racist issues they see in football today. However, they seem to favour the setting up of a black players union/campaign as the best solution to eradicating racism from the sport.
Surely the action of deciding one person over another based purely on the colour of their skin cannot ever be right, can it? So it is the activity which is wrong.
Where does the BPU advance the plight of non-black players? It doesn’t as it will not be speaking for them.
During Nelson Mandela’s negotiations with the white ruling class of South Africa, he knew that in order to wrestle some power from them he needed them to understand he didn’t want all the power, as they would never agree to this. Until he could convince them of this crucial fact, there was no deal.
The answer to the problem of homeless people in this country is not to just turf out a load of homeowners simply to fill the houses with the homeless. Why not? Because you still have homeless people, they’re just different people from the ones you started with.
If people are getting chosen over others purely based on the colour of their skin then that is wrong and must change.
The subject of positive discrimination has been suggested. This has been tried in various sections of our society over the past 20 years. Years ago the Police were concerned they did not have enough Black or Asian people within their ranks. So they went out and actively encouraged members of those communities to join the Police. Unfortunately, it meant that if you were a white person going for a job and the two other people sat next to you at the interview were black and Asian, then you had no chance of being taken on.
In business there is a drive to encourage more women to sit on the board of directors at Britain’s largest companies. The suggestion is that as there are so few women in those positions it must be because of the chauvinistic attitudes of the male majority already encamped there.
Why not look at the root cause?
One aspect which has concerned me is with regards to racist abuse from supporters. Many people who go to matches will tell you they hear it, although few ever do anything about it other than whinge to their friends, but they say it happens. There is one school of thought which suggests that a player highlighting their disgust at the abuse simply makes the abuser feel they’ve won.
Imagine you’re at your club’s ground and sitting behind the goal your team is defending. The opposition has a penalty and up steps Jason Roberts to take it. Now Jason has been a very vocal advocate of banning any sort of racist abuse, and gives a clear message he will not stand for it and is visibly upset when he hears anything like that. He should be, and so should we all. But, as he’s about to step up to take the kick, what if someone shouts some abuse at him? Now you only have a matter of seconds to think and many supporters are not blessed with a vast vocabulary, but maybe shouting out a racist taunt could just put him off.
Of course I’m being flippant, but John Barnes, who received more racist abuse than nearly anybody in the English game, is an advocate of this theory. “Why highlight it?” he says, “why show them you are affected by it?”.
It takes a brave man to turn the other cheek. How do we know it will just go away if we just ignore it?
Getting back to Ferdy’s Law, is this new union/campaign going to represent black players regardless of their nationality?
This brings me to another of John Barnes theories. On the Anton/Terry subject, Barnes argues that Anton Ferdinand is racially closer to John Terry than he is to someone like Usain Bolt. So what is race? If we are simply to divide people based on the colour of their skin is that not something we’d have criticised 18th century Britain over?
And how does positive discrimination eradicate this? What if Gareth Southgate applies for the Crystal Palace manager’s job and when he enters the waiting room he sees Emile Heskey sitting there. Now, Southgate has management, including Premiership, experience, he played for Palace and is a well-respected authority within the game. Emile Heskey is a decent chap with no managerial experience and I cannot recall any channel inviting him on for his views on a game. Positive discrimination would suggest that Heskey must get the job as he is black. Is that progress? Or does the Southgate of tomorrow eventually become the Ferdinand of today?
It is often said that black managers and coaches do not get the same opportunity and treatment as their white counterparts. When Paul Ince was sacked as manager of Blackburn it was suggested as further evidence this was indeed the case. However, subsequent treatment of Mssrs Allardyce and Kean would probably pour cold water over that one. But it is a fact that very few Premiership managers have been black.
Before I cover that one, let me just ask you something else. Black players are very well represented in the Premiership today, with many teams having plenty of them. But how many black goalkeepers can you name who have played in the Premiership?
Now no one is suggesting there is racism within selection of players for particular positions so why the anomaly? You could use the same comparison in cricket regarding wicket keepers.
Let me try another one. Who was the last white sprinter to represent Britain in Athletics? Does it matter, no I don’t think it does but it wasn’t until someone pointed this out to me that I had even thought about the fact I’d been watching black sprinters for years and it never bothered me.
My point is, some of us don’t see colour. I don’t mean we’re colour blind, I just mean it doesn’t really register with us that there is a difference.
So back to black managers. It isn’t necessarily a pre-requisite of being a manager that you captained your club as a player, but it can certainly be a guide. It is true to say that not all captains make good managers (Bobby Moore, Bryan Robson, Emlyn Hughes, Tony Adams etc) but they are often given the responsibility. So how many black players have captained their club to the Premiership title?
Now that may be unfair as only 5 clubs have ever won that trophy, so how many black players have lifted the FA Cup?
The answer to both questions is ‘not many’ and certainly fewer than the ratio of black to white players who have played in those competitions.
If there is blatant discrimination for a managerial position based purely on the colour of someone’s skin then that is completely wrong, but has anyone considered there may be another reason? Not every club in the country can be racist can it? So many are owned by foreign owners that surely they would not put up with such behaviour even if the locals would?
In conclusion, positive discrimination cannot be right or good for the game and whichever way you like to dress it up, it is still discrimination. Will Rio’s BPU give a League Two black player better working conditions than a white Championship player? If it does then that cannot be right, can it?
Or it is just me who is wrong?