This article was originally published on the football blog ‘In Off the Bar’
This last week saw two allegations of racism come to light. Firstly, John Terry was accused by Anton Ferdinand of calling him a “black cunt”. Terry however claims that this pretty comprehensive video footage is him telling Ferdinand what he didn’t say (obviously)! This incident follows Luis Suárez allegedly ‘using a certain word’ 10 times to describe Patrick Evra.
This is nothing new in English football, but it is a sad reminder that we haven’t perhaps travelled as far as we would like to think from our overtly racist past. Admittedly, gone are the days of Bananas being thrown on the pitch, but it was only a few years ago that we had Ron Atkinson describe (live on air) Marcel Desailly as a ‘lazy fucking thick nigger’. Indeed, even in the last few days Stan Collymore has had to endure a torrent of abuse on twitter with comments such as “at least my mother never slept with a coon” after he raised the issue of racism on his talk sport show.
Perhaps the most telling of tweets Collymore was sent simply said, “Have you heard of banter?”. This is incredibly telling as it is the fallback position of decent people up and down the country for not tackling the small minded bigotry that plagues the modern game. Indeed this was the excuse given by the casually racist Jimmy Hill in defence of Atkinson’s horrific comments. It was just a bit of “fun”.
Many people’s lives are seriously affected by racism and discrimination every day and not just because of verbal or physical abuse. Many people from minority ethnic backgrounds are not getting the same opportunities as others whether it is in jobs, education or access to health services, or affordable housing. Even those who are meant to be working to stop this are not exempt. Police stop and search figures show that black people are at least six times more likely to be stopped and searched as white people. This is shocking.
The complete zero tolerance of racism in football is quite right. Yet there seems to be a gulf between how we treat racists and how we deal with other forms of small minded bigotry. Quite rightly, racist chanting has all but been eliminated from the terraces, but it is still quite acceptable to abuse a player’s, appearance, hair length, family relationship or sexuality.
There is a deep rooted misogynistic culture around football that should not be tolerated. We are in a position where it is common place to chant about abusing a player’s wife. It is common place to call a player a “fucking faggot” if he falls over. Indeed, there are few moral depths that the football fan will not sink to if they think they can get away with it. The deplorable comments that Emmanuel Adebayor was subjected to illustrates this point. At what point did tens of thousands of Arsenal fans think it was OK to sing “It should have been you, it should have been you, who was shot in Angola, it should have been you” in reference to the terrorist attack his team suffered, in which a friend of his died?
So why is there such a gulf between attitudes both within the FA and on the terraces between how we should tackle racism and how we should tackle other forms of discrimination and hatred? Imagine if you and your girlfriend approached a steward on a match day and complained that someone has just commented “I see you let your wife out of the kitchen then…(belly laugh)… that blonde bitch probably had the map upside down and was looking for the shops”. What do you honestly think would happen? Nothing! Change this scenario to any other form of discrimination other than racism, a gay couple being called faggots or a guy with long hair being called ‘gypo’ and the outcome would be the same. No action. Now insert a racist slur and you would witness an eviction, an arrest or if this did not happen a fast moving club to make it look like they were acting on this complaint.
To begin to stamp out the sort of reoccurring prejudice that we see in football we need to break down some basic barriers. We need to proudly say that racism is wrong because it judges a person and their capabilities based on a very limited set of categories, such as religion, nationality or skin colour. Equally however, we have to be able to say that judging a person on what or who they are sexually attracted to is equally as narrow minded.
The suggestion that women don’t have the mental capacity to understand the offside rule is almost as insulting as Jimmy Hill back in the 80’s suggesting that those “black aces” don’t have the mental capacity to understand the game but could be used because boy can they run fast.
Football continues to reflect the most outdated and unacceptable sides of our society. This is deeply frustrating as it has such potential to be a positive catalyst for change. We have understood this in terms of racism. Why can we not see that football has a responsibility to tackle these other forms of bigotry that still blight this beautiful game?