Racism in football

By Cressida Smart

In an attempt to tackle racism in football, foreign players and managers
are to be given lessons in British culture. The move is part of a response
by football’s authorities to the Government’s call for tougher action
to tackle discrimination after a series of incidents that have tarnished
the game’s image. Even in a sport whose diverse factions seldom
agree on most football issues, there is a universal desire to stamp out
discrimination and the FA blueprint is expected to receive the full backing
of clubs.

Titled ‘English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action
Plan’, the document includes, in addition to such lessons, mandatory anti-
discrimination clauses in contracts and fixed bans for all racist offences,
with a minimum in excess of the four weeks John Terry received for
abusing Anton Ferdinand. The Professional Footballers’ Association
chief executive Gordon Taylor said, “Up until now we have had cultural
awareness courses for our apprentices and the plan now is to extend these
to senior players and coaches, including those coming from overseas. We
want to make sure there is no misunderstanding with regards to the rules
and regulations on discrimination.” It follows a Downing Street summit
on racism in football last February. The FA proposals, which are under
the name of chairman David Bernstein, have been discussed at board level
by the Premier League and Football League. It is expected they will be
rubber-stamped early in the new year following club meetings.
The need for action was further underlined by the recent criticism from
Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley over the handling of the Terry and
Suarez cases. Ouseley, who is threatening to resign from Kick It Out and
the FA Council in protest, said there was ‘very little morality’ at the top
clubs and claimed a lack of leadership had left ‘a moral vacuum’ in the
game.

Racism has long been an issue.

The media is awash with its coverage of racial incidents in football.
Yet why are we pretending that racism in football is a new issue?
Furthermore, it is not just the footballers, but fans too that are guilty of
this crime. Racism in football in English football can be traced back to
1930s when the Everton player, Dixie Dean, faced racist comments as he
left the pitch at half time. In the 1960s, West Ham United players, Clyde
Best who is black and from Bermuda, and Ade Coker were subjected
to “monkey chants” and had bananas thrown at them during West Ham’s

games. In the 1980s, racism in football in England reached fever point.
Paul Canoville was abused by his own fans when he warmed up for
Chelsea before making his début. Garth Crooks was regularly subject to
racist chants and banners from opposing fans during his time at Spurs.
Cyrille Regis endured monkey chants from Newcastle fans on his away
début for West Bromwich Albion and was later sent a bullet in the post
following his call up to the England squad. In 1987, John Barnes was
pictured back-heeling a banana off the pitch during a match for Liverpool
against Everton, whose fans chanted ‘Everton are white’.

In 2004, Millwall became the first club to be charged by The Football
Association over racist behaviour by their fans. One of the most damning
incidents occurred in the media by Ron Atkinson. On 2004, he was
caught making a racist remark live on air about the black Chelsea player
Marcel Desailly. Believing the microphone to be switched off, he
said, “…he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy
thick nigger”. On 6 March 2007, it was announced that the Metropolitan
Police were investigating apparent anti-Semitic chants by West Ham
fans before the match with Spurs two days previously after a video of the
offence surfaced on the internet.

Last season was overshadowed by the Suarez and Terry incidents.
Only four months into the 2012/13 season and the Premier League has
seen numerous examples with recent incidents at Tottenham Hotspur,
Sunderland, Swansea City and Manchester City.

Will the proposals work?

Why now is there a sudden call to arms to stamp out this type of
behaviour? There has been increased intensity and exposure in the media.
As a result, more criminal cases are being brought to court. Does the FA
feel that because of this, they have been pushed into a corner and must
show to be taking action? The Government has now weighed in on the
subject either because they believe that it needs to be tackled or because it
is a quick way to earn some brownie points amongst his voters.

The proposals are a step towards combating racism in football, but it
is difficult to see exactly how much effect that will have. Suggesting
that foreign players take cultural lessons to learn about England and
the English game will not solve the problem. It is insulting and could
further distance foreign players from a solution which can be accepted.

One of the underlying fundamental problems with racism in English
football seems to lie with certain groups of fans and the way they are
brought up to watch and be involved around football. There is still a
large element of fathers taking their sons to watch football matches and
there is still a huge hooligan element to English football which is where
many racism problems originate. Racism can therefore be engrained
onto younger supporters from a very early age which will naturally be
damaging because 60% of the players in the Premier League are not
British born and raised.

The current method which is being proposed will simply stop foreign
players from using certain words, in a similar way that Uruguayan Luis
Suarez called Patrice Evra a racial term last season which is accepted
in parts of Uruguay. Instead of eradicating racism from the game, it is
side stepping the problem and will simply cause players to think outside
the box in terms of the language they use when talking back to a player.
A much better way to tackle this problem is to educate fans filled with
prejudice and hatred from a very early age and impose bans which stop
any racist fans from watching football. Whilst hard to enforce, education
on racism should extend to the sets of supporters responsible and try to
educate them over the cultural backgrounds from where many players
hail. It may even be useful to engage with English footballers, especially
those accused of racist remarks and identify why it is that they choose to
use language that is offensive.

Racism in football will not be eradicated overnight and it is naive to
think that cultural lessons are the answer. The problem lies as much in
our English footballers and fans. Education at all levels is the answer
and until that happens, the beautiful game will continue to be marred by
racism.

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