Comment | Racism in Football: Are Black Players Kicking Themselves?

Amid the whirlwind of allegations and denials over the past few days and weeks, Terence Elliott-Cooper looks at the recent cases of overt racism in football, and the options available to those who are serious about kicking it out.

Blogs, Ceasefire Bites, Ideas, New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 0:00 - 1 Comment

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Luis Suarez (left) was found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra (right) during a match in October 2011

In the premiership, Kick It Out‘s fortnight has just come to an end, but for once it is actually in the spotlight somewhat. Kick It Out is an anti-racism campaign in the Football League, set up twelve years ago to attempt to combat racism that occurs at matches. Last week a number of Black players took what some saw as a controversial stance and refused to wear the Kick It Out warm up tops.

Jason Roberts of reading was most vocal in why he refused to wear it, saying that in what’s happened over the past year in football, notably with regards to the Louis Suarez and John Terry cases, he felt that he couldn’t support an organisation that he believed wasn’t doing enough to combat racism.

John Terry received a four match ban as opposed to the 8 match ban Suarez received for an arguably comparable offence, supposedly because there was no way of determining whether Terry was using the slur as an insult or questioning what Anton Ferdinand thought he had said. Regardless, many think that a four match ban in the premiership (Terry is not banned from Champions League games) is not adequate, not to mention the discrepancy between the courts finding Terry not guilty and the FA finding him guilty.

A number of other Black players including Anton Ferdinand’s brother Rio, also refused to wear the shirt. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson made a statement addressing Rio’s choice, stating he wanted solidarity within the team and that Rio would be dealt with.

At its simplest, the criticism being levelled at Kick It Out is that it does not really have any power to impose or review bans or fines on players, a prerogative of the FA. However, it is important that some Black players had taken part in their act of protest, as it has drawn attention to the fact that the way racism has been dealt with in the most popular league in the world is unacceptable.

The discrepancies between bans are absurd; back in 2003 Rio Ferdinand was banned for 8 months and fined £50,000 for missing a drugs test, despite successfully passing another within 48 hours.

Peter Herbert is a barrister and member of the Society of Black Lawyers who is intending to start up a black player’s union. Black-led unions have a long history in Britain of addressing issues of racial discrimination which mainstream unions don’t have the capacity, understanding or willingness to engage in. During the 1960s organisations like the Coordinating Committee Against Racial Discrimination (CCARD) which was made up of a coalition of African, Caribbean and Asian trade unions organised for Black and White activists to demonstrate against the Immigration Act, and wage discrepancies between African Caribbean and Asians workers, and their white counterparts.

Last week Herbert revealed that he has made a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police about premiership referee Mark Clattenburg, and they have begun an investigation into alleged ‘inappropriate racial language’ directed at two Chelsea players. With incidences like these happening more frequently the issue is becoming ever more pertinent.

Furthermore, the recent England under-21 game in Serbia ended with England player Danny Rose being racially abused by Serbian fans, and then subsequently being sent off for kicking the ball away into the stands in frustration. Despite clear evidence, the Serbian FA deny any wrongdoing, and instead referred to Rose’s behaviour as unacceptable.

It is clear that reforms need to be made to the way racism is handled at football matches, and it needs to start here, with “the best league in the world”.

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Terence Elliott-Cooper is a writer and student activist.

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Jack
Nov 13, 2012 14:53

There are a few points, 1) I think its difficult to compare the Suarez and Terry cases, Suarez denies any racist connotation to his usage of the term “negrito” a claim which many southern cone spanish speakers (includeing Urugayans of African descent) have supported. Here there was a clear lack of cultural understanding, both between Suarez and Evra, but also from within the FA (which consistently mistranslated Spanish in its reports). In particular the media coverage of Suarez was itself borderline racist, with a general line that while johnny foreigner might think its acceptable to be racist in his own country, its not acceptable here. The historical context of South Americna racial relations was clearly very poorly understood, and the meaning of racism in general was almost entirely lost (one of the few exceptions being John Barnes who was extremely eloquoent and sophisticated in his analysis).

My understanding that Terry only receiving 4 games was not due to any doubt over the intentionality of what he said (that was his claim, but the panel didnt accept it) but that he only said it once, which doesnt really hold water, as surely racial abuse is racial abuse, regardless of whether it is repeated. It seems to me that there is no comparison between the two cases, Terry was using a well known term of racist abuse (even if it is true that he is not “a racist”), where as Suarez was not.

More broadly speaking, Im not convinced that these 2 incidents signal a trend (the clatenberg thing is still being investigated, while racism on the continent is not at all new) my sense is that racial abuse is now extremely rare in English football grounds (an important, though largely ignored exception, being the overtly racist songs at the England-Turkey match a few years ago) particularly in comparison to the 1980s. In terms of players, football is over-represented in terms of black-british (though under-represented in terms of british-asian) there are some issues in relation to Kick it Out, but the creation of a new union would seem a bit excessive. This seems to be the position of most people in the game, including the Ferdinands, Jason Roberts etc, Im not entirely sure why Peter Herbert is pushing it, has anyone invited him to?

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