Racism in Modern Football

Just when you think the debate about ‘racism in football’ has gone into permanent retirement, it rears its ugly head for another encore. Sepp Blatter this week made scandalous comments in two different TV interviews that players should ‘shake hands’ and forget about what had been said on the pitch, even if it was a racial incident. He quickly apologised for these comments and said he had meant them in a different context. It’s unsurprising Blatter was asked about this issue considering England and Chelsea captain John Terry is the subject of an enquiry by the Metropolitan Police about whether he racially abused QPR defender Anton Ferdinand during a match earlier this month. As well as this, the Football Association have charged Luis Suárez of Liverpool for using racially offensive language against Patrice Evra of Manchester United when the two clubs met in October. There have been numerous campaigns for decades to kick this out of the game for good, so why has the tide suddenly turned?

Starting with the problems in the Premier League, it’s worth pointing out that even though John Terry is under investigation, it’s unlikely that he will be found guilty. The only evidence that seems to be against him is the questionable and ambiguous footage of him shouting something towards Ferdinand, which may or may not be a racial slur. Ferdinand himself has never fully condemned Terry even though he has ‘strong feelings’ on the matter and both shook hands after the game. Various reports say that his mood and behaviour are strange, but the QPR defender still isn’t quite sure of the incident that day. In the England press conference this week reporters were not allowed to ask Terry about the case against him, but his persona and attitude was not of a guilty man. Indeed, if he was guilty, we would not have seen him at all.

Luis Suárez was away on international duty when the FA chose to charge him after Patrice Evra’s complaint a month ago. Suárez has no excuse; he has been playing in Europe for quite some time now and has played against numerous ethnicities. And of course even if he hadn’t encountered such players in his other leagues, there would be no justification for his actions. However like the Terry case there is increasing doubt whether Suárez was racist at all. Liverpool and his manager Kenny Dalglish have chosen to back him and fellow Uruguayan Gus Poyet has leaped to Suárez’s defence and the Brighton manager went on to publically condone Evra. Despite being charged, Suárez has pleaded ‘not guilty’ but will either receiver a fine or a match ban if his appeal fails. His argument is that ‘There is no evidence I said anything racist to him… I did not insult him… I called him something his team-mates at Manchester call him, and even they were surprised by his reaction.’ So essentially it depends who you believe. Certain words seem to have got lost in translation as Suárez claims he insulted Evra in Spanish and English, but there was nothing racist about his remarks.
It’s worth pointing out how seriously the Premier League takes racism compared to other leagues in other countries. In Spain especially, if similar incidents had taken place I doubt that there would have been such a furore. It’s common to hear boos and chants against black players of the away team in La Liga and the divisions below. A racial insult from one player to another would probably be forgotten about by the end of the game. If the masses are not bothered about the issue why should the players be? Spain’s attitude to racism has always been laissez faire and when previous managers of the national side have made bigoted remarks, there is not a lot of hope for the culture to change. In Italy it’s a similar story. Teams with fascist ideologies often target non-white players, the famous case being the ultras of Lazio who would often disgrace Serie A with their lamentable behaviour.

Has the Premier League become too incompetent to deal with acts of racism and innocent parties? We’ve had two cases this season in which top players have accused one another of racism with the supposed perpetrators denying that they have committed any offence. John Terry admittedly had a somewhat tarnished reputation anyway but nothing as demeaning as being a racist. But Luis Suárez hasn’t even reached a year of playing in the Premier League and even if he wins his appeal, he will be branded a persona non grata at most grounds around the country.

Do two incidents out of the whole season mean that racism is common in the Premier League? We’ll soon find out. The Terry/Ferdinand and the Suárez/Evra cases will hopefully mean that more players will report to the referee when they are a victim of verbal abuse. Maybe there is more problems off-pitch than on. If you speak to most supporters they will have heard at some point a racist remark by a fan of their own team. There has been growing evidence of teams suspending fans from stadiums if racism is heard. More stewards to listen out for such abuse is a proposal suggested by some. I’m not sure how effective this would be with the teams in League One and below, hiring more security would be damaging for teams with smaller budgets.

Mark Bright is certainly one ex-professional who would disagree with criticism against the Premier League’s tougher approach. This week he stated how he has been the victim of torrid abuse on social networking site Twitter and that it is still prevalent in the game. I think Bright picks up on an excellent point about the regulation of social media. When looking for videos on YouTube for certain events linked to Terry and Suárez there are some shocking remarks from users, and if they think they can get away with it on the internet then why not repeat these slurs on their home turf? Blackburn striker Jason Roberts has said too how during his career he has had similar insults thrown at him. This is a shame considering that Roberts is a current Premier League player and racism is associated with generations past.

The biggest problem in the foreseeable future is the World Cup in Russia in 2018. On numerous occasions the Russia Football Union has failed to deal with racism, the most high profile being Roberto Carlos of Anzhi Makhachkala walking off the pitch when a banana skin was thrown at him. The Russian Premier League has a high quantity of players from a range of different ethnicities, so it’s not as if the supporters are oblivious to such cultures. It would be a disaster if the first World Cup in Russia was marred with racial incidents. It would also show a Russia of old, decadent and unwelcoming in its attitude towards other beliefs. This is indeed something FIFA and Blatter should be thinking heavily about, and with the 75-year-olds ill informed remarks this week, football fans from all walks of life should be worried that the beautiful game’s image could be tarnished for good.


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