I’m going to be honest, in the past I’ve not had much respect for our football players. I’ve admired their talent and the way they‘ve been able to unite millions of people through sport, but when it comes to addressing any of the day to day issues that affect you and I they have often been aloof, disinterested and woefully silent.
However over the past year we have witnessed vicious attacks by various political parties on multiculturalism. Back in the past it was said to be cool for African Caribbean people to talk, walk, dress and eat in a manner that rejected quaint English ideas of civil behaviour. Possessing a style that reflected richer and more colourful cultures was seen as ‘ethnic’ chic and good ‘diversity’ practice.
The very idea that African people should be free to maintain their identity at home and more importantly outside on the streets and workplace has been turned on its head. Young children are now being told they must speak the ‘queens English’, use of patois is labelled the language of criminals and elders are being attacked for speaking their mother tongue in their own homes.
Just as it’s clear that the excess racism in the police force is a result of its members being drawn from the wider society we live in, the same can be said to be true of football. Discrimination at all levels of the game exists from the boardroom all the way to the terrace, and of course, the pitch itself.
The two cases that have best highlighted this in recent times are the ones involving the racist abuse of Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand by Luis Suárez and John Terry respectively.
I don’t want to address the specifics of these incidents as they have been widely reported and commented on. The bottom line is that they were both ugly examples of racism in which the perpetrators were footballers who despite being guilty of using racist language were able to maintain the full backing of their fans and more disturbingly, their club and managerial superiors.
Now the reason why I bring this up is because justice is supposed to support the victim, not the perpetrator. It is the innocent, vulnerable minority that is supposed to be protected not the guilty. That did not happen.
Now many people are wondering if these players were let down by the bigger institutions like the FA or the management of respective clubs then why don’t they aim their grievances at them. Why pick on a tiny organisation like Kick it Out who are supposed to be on their side?
The answer is simple. Kick it Out is not and has never been on the side of victims, it is on the side of the Football industry. To understand this it is important to remember that the Let's Kick Racism Out of Football campaign was started in 1993 by the now defunct Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA). It was originally devised as a means of showing the world that the British football industry believe ‘racism is bad’ and has been supported by the Football Association (PA) since its inception.
As an organisation they assist Premier League clubs with their Equality Standard submissions and organise ‘inclusive’ and ‘diversity’ projects throughout the year. It may not surprise you to learn that Kick it Out also participates in Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transsexual History Month, hosting events and debates on ‘homophobia’.
Diversity, inclusion, homophobia, sadly the one topic that Kick it Out does not deal with is racism. Real racism and this is despite it often being the first body called upon by the media to comment whenever there is a racist incident on the pitch.
Standing up to Racism: Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts
A watershed moment
In 2004, Ligali wrote to Kick it Out seeking support for our No N Word Campaign. Our concern at the time was that “use of the N Word and other racially offensive phrases are frequently being defended and sometimes reported as a minor 'gaffe' or ‘a throwaway comment’ by those responsible and people within the footballing world. Most recently, Duncan Ferguson, Alan Green, Ron Atkinson, Luis Aragones and Frank McLintock have all been guilty of making racially offensive remarks towards African players.
Their limp response was lacklustre to say the least.
And it is this limpness that is the problem here. No-one is saying that Kick it Out is a bad idea, any organisation challenging the evil of discrimination is doing some good work. But in this the case it is clear that despite receiving almost half a million pounds a year in funding, Kick it Out acts like a limp, damp squib when it really matters.
Racism - Not just discrimination.
The African Brazilian midfielder, Fernandinho should not feel the need to warn Chelsea’s captain John Terry that he “would go wild” if subjected to racist words. But when the racist abuse by the former England captain only receives a four-match ban and £220,000 fine as domestic punishments from the FA then it is clear that African British footballers are seen around the world as a joke for not having a spine.
I guess this is why I am so shocked, and actually proud to see the change of attitude of men like Jason Roberts, Ian Wright, Anton and Rio Ferdinand starting to step up to the plate like John Carlos, Tommie Smith with Mark Hughes adopting the Peter Norman role did. They seem to have realised that as much as there are many who would like to keep politics out of sport, as soon as racism is excused and in some cases supported on and off the pitch then sport has already started to reflect the political.
Sadly there will always be others from our community who lack the strength to stand up for justice, the likes of Viv Anderson and Ashley Cole can always be relied on to make unhelpful apologist comments about keeping your head down and just accepting the cash.
Kick It Out chairman Herman Ouseley has asked Rio Ferdinand to explain why he and over thirty players refused to wear the t-shirts in protest. The very fact that he has to ask explains why it needed to be done.
It is now time for Rio, Jason and the others to recognise that this could be a watershed moment in the history of the game and step up to the plate. If they show that they have the stamina to stay the course and lead with the formation of a federation dedicated to the specific task of eradicating racism, then they may finally achieve a status that has eluded most African footballers in this country since John Barnes backed Ron Atkinson over the racist abuse of Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly.
That of role model.
Toyin Agbetu is a writer, film director, poet, and founder of Ligali, the pan African human rights based organisation.
External LinksTheres more to anti-racism in football than the Kick it Out campaign - as the likes of Rio Ferdinand knowI would go wild if John Terry abuses me, says midfielderRio Ferdinand urged to explain reasons behind T-shirt protest by Kick It Out chairman Lord OuseleyJason Roberts let down by Kick It Out campaignKick it Out chairman: How football moves on is most important thing after Terry found guilty
Rio Ferdinand downplays reports of new black footballers union
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