Racism in sport is part of a bigger problem

With the Summer Olympics and accompanying sunshine just a memory, hostile grey skies and relentless rain are an appropriate setting for the ongoing race row that’s accompanied the English football season.

After last year’s high profile racial issues, there are new allegations of a racist referee, abusive fans and problems in the lower leagues. Why does racism plague football so and what can be done?

I go to Stamford Bridge when I can, and part of the experience isn’t as enjoyable as it should be for all the shouting and abuse directed at both sets of players.

Any average person with a respectable job, family and responsibilities can attend a football match on a Saturday and vent frustrations that have built up over their working week by losing their inhibitions and behaving revoltingly.

I know this is the case with every football ground in Britain, and occasionally a fan oversteps the line further by making their abuse racial.

At the Chelsea vs Man United League Cup tie in October, a spectator was arrested for directing a ‘monkey gesture’ towards the black United centre forward Danny Welbeck. Earlier this year, Chelsea imposed a lifetime ban on a supporter who racially abused striker Didier Drogba.

Such abuse is a cancer that must be expunged, and of course the same can be said of all verbal abuse. Nick Hornby hit the nail on the head when speaking of his experience at Arsenal: ‘When an opposing black player commits a foul and some Neanderthal shouts “c***!”, you’re filled with an absurd sense of metropolitan sophisticate pride because the adjectival epithet is missing. It’s not much to be grateful for, really, the fact a man calls another man a c*** but not a black c***.’

The English media is constantly asking what can be done, and the immediate response from every Premier League club is to impose lifetime bans on fans guilty of racial assault. The right thing to do but it’s sad to think there are possibly many others out there thinking vile racist thoughts but not voicing them for fear of losing their precious season tickets.

On the other hand, some guilty of racist abuse may be simply moronic, evidence of a school playground mentality that just gets a kick out of poking fun and antagonising others.  The Chelsea fan apparently told his friend after the United match: “I’m not racist, I’m just one of the boys.” He’s just one of the imbeciles.

The same goes for John Terry and Luis Suárez, both alleged to have used racist language on the pitch. Suárez was piteously ignorant and Terry, who claimed to have used racist words in a non-racist context, simply idiotic. What on earth was he thinking?

Another issue is the inconsistency between how Chelsea dealt with fans using racist language and the punishment imposed on Terry (practically none).

Racism permeates all the way down the football pyramid, from the Premier League to grassroots level. Colin King from the Black and Asian Coaches Association said: “We’ve still got the monkey-shouting that takes place from parents and managers. I do park football every week and I see racial abuse consistently.”

Abuse from parents as well? It’s soul destroying to think these are the terraces that nurture the next generation of young footballers. I’m not sure how much all the anti-racism campaigns and organisations out there can actually achieve. One organisation, Kick It Out, was boycotted by black players Jason Roberts and Rio Ferdinand for not being active enough.

Football isn’t an instigator of racism; it is just one of the areas where racism manifests.  Something must be done to tackle this insidious social problem: unfortunately, nobody seems to know exactly what that should be.


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