We need to take action over racism – even if it means calling off matches - (2022)
It is time to end the empty words and repetitive statements and for affirmative action to be taken. Against racists. Against anti-semites. Against homophobes. Against sexists. Against anyone who thinks it is acceptable to turn up at a football match and snarl and sneer and shout discriminatory abuse from the terraces.
Football is sliding back into the primordial slime of the pre-1990s, as the latest Kick It Out figures revealed a fortnight ago. Since their report came out: a banana was chucked at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Raheem Sterling was called what he believes were the words “you f****** black c***” in two of the Premier League’s highest-profile games. There has been the view, for a while now, that the Premier League has been gentrified beyond this, but really beneath the money and the hype and all that shiny gloss is a core that has been rotting away for years.
Of course, football mirrors society — the rise of the Right, the anti-immigration rhetoric of Brexit, the stance of US President Donald Trump — a point often made, but the game also has a platform — one of the biggest, brightest stages around — to make a statement about where that society is headed. Premier League football is one giant global advert — does it want to advertise and play a part in the continued degeneration of a divided and angry Britain, or does it want to be part of promoting strong action against offenders? That is up to the game’s stakeholders to decide now.
Courses of action
What about a blanket rule whereby a game is abandoned if any discrimination which would constitute a hate crime is identified? Why not have an official — there are so many of them these days — on hand to ascertain if any discrimination has occurred, inform the referee and call the game off? And the same goes if a player reports it.
So anti-semitic rival supporters hiss at Tottenham Hotspur fans, referencing gas chambers — game off. A supporter in the front row is picked up by microphones calling Sterling a “f****** black c***” — if the player doesn't report it but the official checks it all out, tells the referee, then the ball is picked up and they leave. A fan throws a banana at Aubameyang — that’s the end of that. Rhian Brewster believes he is racially abused by an opposition player and reports it to the referee — game over. We can sort out the finer details later but, for now, this game will not continue.
Or what about docking points of clubs whose supporters are found guilty of these offences? So when Manchester United fan Karl Anderson was jailed for racially aggravated common assault last year when he pulled up in his white van outside Manchester City’s training ground, hurled racial slurs at Sterling and physically attacking the forward, that’s a straight 10 points off United’s points tally. Same for the Chelsea supporter on Saturday, if found guilty. Might spark a few people into action, when it is not only the black guy getting hurt.
Because words can be powerful — as we have seen in the boundary-crossing vilification of Sterling in certain corners of the media over several years — but words can also carry the appearance of being powerful when they are, in fact, masking a lack of substance.
Condemnation but little action
“We take all allegations of discrimination extremely seriously,” the FA said of Sterling’s abuse. “The Premier League and the clubs are opposed to all forms of discrimination in football,” the Premier League said. Well, why don’t you prove it, then? Get round a table and discuss meaningful, preventative action. Stop spouting hollow words which could’ve been tapped out on an a smartphone over coffee on a Sunday morning. The same words rolled out after almost any contentious incident as though they were copied and pasted from a template. They are PR words: they sound impactful, but unless they are followed up with something more, they mean zilch.
On Monday morning, the Professional Footballers’ Association condemned the racism of their members “in the strongest possible terms” — what does that even mean? The strongest possible terms would be taking serious action, calling meetings, coming up with ideas of how to tackle this alarming, growing trend, contemplating strike action if nothing is done. Not pedalling the same old statements, destined to disappear into the infinity of the Internet within the coming hours, days or weeks when nobody does anything but perhaps ban one racist supporter, or a couple of racist supporters, who can be replaced by more at the next game. Why not take away the football they crave, or hurt the team they support?
Sterling was brave and right to challenge the media in his Instagram post. I don’t think newspapers are solely to blame for fuelling racism, but I certainly agree they are part of the problem. But so, too, is social media, so too the governing bodies, FIFA, UEFA, the English FA, the Premier League, the club’s owners and the chairmen and the executives.
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Former Liverpool and Aston Villa striker Stan Collymore, writing in The Guardian, complained that the media stopped writing about and discussing these things after they died down — but if more was done by those in power, those who can effect change and draft rules and regulations and actually enforce them, journalists would continue to write and discuss it. If the game’s leaders were not worried about the financial implications or the prospect of sullying the brand of the Premier League by admitting it has a racism problem, something might change.
Do we want football it want to be known as the Beautiful Game, or the Racist, Hate-Filled Game?
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