It’s hard to open a paper this week without being bombarded with images of people not wearing t-shirts. Rio Ferdinand’s reluctance to back the ‘Kick it out’ campaign has been the issue on everybody’s lips following the disgusting scenes in Serbia last week.
Kick it out has been a prominent figure in the fight against racism for the past nineteen years, bringing the fact this is an issue into the public mind through means of advertisements and player sponsorship. However as well as Ferdinand, players like Jason Roberts and Joleon Lescott have recently boycotted the campaign. Lescott hasn’t worn a Kick it out t-shirt since 2007, following their failure to convict the then-Newcastle midfielder Emre of a racist attack on former-Everton defender Joseph Yobo; despite Lescott’s defence of his teammate. While Roberts criticises the campaign for its lack of authority and vocal influence, stating that he finds it “difficult to wear a t-shirt or hold up a banner, given what’s happened last year”.
Roberts is of course referring to the racist attacks from John Terry and Luis Suarez of last year. It took eleven months to penalise Terry for his role in the incident that included Anton Ferdinand, as he received a four-match ban and a fine. Terry’s ban is half the length of the one given to Suarez which created a lot of controversy given the similar nature of the two incidents.
While all of these incidents have been going on over the past year, Kick it out has continually put out advertisements and made players and clubs show their support for the campaign. To some, like Roberts, it simply is not enough. Roberts calls for more independence of an organisation which only employs seven staff and has a yearly expenditure of £450,000. This is nowhere enough money to tackle an issue this on this scale. Also the money itself comes largely from the FA, PFA and Premier League, if Kick it out were to openly criticise these organisations, there may be a cut in their resources; a huge factor behind the campaign’s reluctance to make an example of someone when push comes to shove.
Following Ferdinand’s decision not to wear the t-shirt and back the Kick-it out campaign, Sir Alex Ferguson openly criticised his player and stated that “he would be dealt with”. I find this comment completely ridiculous, how in any way has Ferdinand “embarrassed” the football club as Ferguson suggested? The club may support the Kick it out campaign but Ferdinand simply does not, and he is entitled to do so. If my employers outwardly stated their support for say, the Nazi party, and said they would “deal with me” if I refused to wear a Swastika, I would obviously feel wronged. An extreme example I know put the principle is the same.
The world is a completely different place to what it was fifty years ago; attitudes towards race have changed completely in this country and rightly so. It has been a long, gradual change that has led us to the point today when there are only perhaps one or two incidents every few months compared to one or two per weekend in the 1980s. The United Kingdom is blessed with such a diverse culture that has helped make this transition run a lot smoother. The same however cannot be said for eastern-European countries like Serbia.
Their population predominantly consists of white people whose families have lived in the country for many generations, a far cry from the celebrated diversity of the United Kingdom. The actions of some of the Serbian fans and players in their under-21 match last week were truly disgusting and there is no place for that in today’s society. If a country does not conform to twenty-first century attitudes towards race, then that country does not deserve a place in it. As far as football is concerned, the best way to combat this backwards attitude is to penalise the entire national sport, banning them from major championships until the issue is resolved.
Moving back to Britain, there has been a huge switch in attitudes over the last thirty years or so, but we have by no means a racist-free football league. There are still murmurs of possible incidents on a weekly basis as a small section of supporters across the country fail to draw the line between heckling and abuse.
So how best can football combat the attitude of the minority? Are these people simply being racist because they know they shouldn’t be? Is Kick it out really going to eliminate racism from football? The campaign’s intentions are in the right place, there is obviously no room for racism in the twenty-first century, (as a History student I know this more than most).
However if the victims of racism aren’t happy with it, then surely this campaign isn’t the right way to go. The campaign is raising the profile of racial abuse, showing to the country that it is a bad thing and that people must not do it, however when someone tells you aren’t allowed to do something, a lot of people want to do it. I believe that this is what is happening in football grounds up and down the country.
Morgan Freeman famously said that the best way to combat racism is to simply “stop talking about it”; it’s only an issue if you make it one. To an extent I think this is the best way to beat it in British football. I’m not saying that any racist abuse should be ignored by the authorities, quite the opposite. Punish those who are guilty and eventually the problem will work itself out.
There has even been talk of some black players splintering off from the PFA and forming their own players’ union. The prospect of this would have a hugely adverse effect on the fight against racism. There is only division amongst ethnicities if you make one.
I hope this issue in football gets resolved quickly as it’s having a hugely negative effect on the pitch. Players that have been caught up in the scandals of the last twelve months, Terry, Suarez, Evra and the Ferdinand brothers have been very poor on the pitch during the period; that is not a coincidence. I hate this topic dominating the headlines and the quicker it gets resolved the better. As important as it is, football is a lot more enjoyable when people can actually focus on the football itself rather than whether or not a player wears a t-shirt.