Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Racism on the football pitch reflects deeper divisions in society

The subject or racism in football has very much been in the headlines of late.

Most recently there were the appalling scenes in Serbia where England’s black footballers were physically and verbally abused whilst playing a match. These appalling scenes echoed other racist incidents particularly in eastern Europe aimed at Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) players.

At home though some would argue things are little better, with the incident involving former England and Chelsea captain John Terry racially abusing fellow QPR player Anton Ferdinand. Terry was cleared of the offence in the courts but the FA found that he had used racial abuse in the incident.

Recently, former England international Luther Blissett and the director of Operation Black Vote Simon Woolley attacked the failure on the one hand of the FA to act more quickly in the Terry incident and on the other to not believe black players.

Blissett told of the wounding effect that racism had had on him as a player starting out in the 1970s. The monkey chants and bananas being thrown on the pitch.

He felt that stronger action needs to be taken against racism both nationally and internationally. He wanted to see the FA act much more quickly in the Terry case and impose bans when things like the Serbia incident occurs.

Woolley picked up on the fact that black people are simply not believed in this society. He highlighted how it wasn’t until a bunch of white men on a panel at the FA found Terry had acted in a racist manner that it was really believed by the wider society.

Moving beyond football he quoted the instance of black people hailing taxis, that just drive by empty. When the black people complain they are accused of being “oversensitive” or “having chips on their shoulders.”

His concern is that black people and their claims of being racially abused are simply not believed in what is still a white male dominated society.

Further evidence that this is not an uncommon feeling amongst black people comes again from the football world. This has seen black players like Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts refusing to take part in the Kick It (racism) Out activities last weekend.

They believe that Kick It Out, an organisation concerned with addressing racism in football, has been ineffectual. It has just become another part of the self perpetuating football industry.

The charges seem harsh against an organisation that seems over the years to have done its best to address racism in football but clearly there are quite a few influential black players around that feel differently.

They do not believe they are being heard or that racism is really being addressed.

The world of football has definitely tried to tackle racism over recent years. The days of monkey chants and bananas being thrown on the pitch are long gone but institutional racism still definitely exists.

The lack of black managers in a game where there are so many black players suggests a problem. Chris Hughton at Premiership club Norwich and and Chris Powell at Championship team Charlton are the only two black managers in the top two echelons of English football.

There is also clear racism being shown toward Asian players. A TV documentary recently revealed how some English clubs don’t scout for asian players, whilst there are very few playing at professional levels. There is a definite race bar at work in football in this respect.

The problems of racism in football though are really only a mirror reflection of what is going on in the rest of society. BME people are not believed, as Mr Woolley says, compared to their white counterparts.

BME people are being hit disproportionately hard hit by the present economic down turn. The cuts are hitting the BME community the hardest because they most often are at the bottom of the pile. To find those being hardest hit in the present circumstances a good place to start is with BME women.

Strides have been made in society to address racism but much still needs to be done. There was the Race Relations Act of 1976 which addressed much overt racism. The creation of bodies like the Commission For Racial Equality ensured that such legislation was enacted. A culture where racist jokes were not tolerated developed.

Then came the McPherson inquiry following on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. McPherson found institutional racism commonplace in society. There have been steps taken to address these problems but many still remain.

The concern is that racism is still very prevalent in society, it has just become less overt. The days of shows like Love Thy Neighbour and Till Death Us Do Part are no longer part of TV schedules. The no blacks, Irish or dogs notices are not allowed by law to appear in bedsit windows but the BME person still has trouble hailing down a cab in the street.

The present worsening economic situation is likely to bring more racism to the surface as people go looking for scapegoats for the problems. It is a time when efforts need to be redoubled to address racism in all its forms across the country, from the football pitch to the workplace and places of worship. The recent Olympics was a great celebration of multicultural Britain but there is still much to be done before this society can be truly described as inclusive and colour blind.

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