I am an Anti-Racist. Thats how I am.
I like to claim that I was a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The reality is that I was only a member for about seven or eight years maximum. Sometimes I let my membership lapse.
Being a member of the Anti-Apartheid Movement always seemed the right thing for me to do. But here in Ireland, it was mostly totemic or academic, a chance to make my feelings clear about issues like South Africa and broader issues of Race.
It became less academic after 1978. My sister in London is married to a man from Asia. She has three children, my neices and (all) Godchildren. They are of mixed race and I have seen the attitude of some (white) Londonders as I held their hands as very young children. I was anti-racist even before my sister told me about the dog shit smeared on her front door and the scorch marks where lighted newspapers had been put thru the letterbox.
Yet I strugggle with the issue of Race. I want to be clearly seen as anti-racist. And I need it known that this is how I was before the issue became very personal for me and my family. I am sensitive to the words I hear…and even more sensitive to the words I use…….a constant nervousness that nothing I can say will be insensitive. For example, in my previous paragraph I used the phrase “mixed race” which is of course much better than the offensive terminology I have heard directed, knowingly or unknowingly at my beautiful neices. But two years ago, I was in London and saw an advertisement looking for foster parents for children of “shared heritage”. Now that is simply a beautiful and positive phrase……”shared heritage” which deserves to be better known.
So for me……..Anti-Racism is an article of faith. …a totemic manifestation of who I am as a “liberal” and “right on guy” …as well as being personal to my family. One of those issues which defines me as a person.
I am also a football fan. The most tribal of all games. And it depresses me to see two high profile cases emerge this week which are about Racism in Football.
Take Luis Saurez. He is Liverpool FCs best player and an international from Uruguay. When I watched Liverpool defeat Manchester United FC (my team)on TV a few months back, it was obvious that Saurez and Patrice Evra were involved in a series of heated incidents. Saurez was laughing a lot and Evra, who is French was getting increasingly agitated.
After the match, Evra gave an interview in a French newspaper claiming that Saurez had racially abused him on several occasions during the match. Evra is black. Saurez is white. Surprisingly perhaps, Luis Saurez did not deny the allegations. Rather he claimed that in his native Uruguay, it was normal for people to comment on the colour of people or indeed other physical characteristics and to give them nicknames, which were affectionate or nasty, depending on tone. He even claimed that some of Evra’s team mates (presumably South Americans) were using the same “name” that he called Evra.
European Football has a problem with Racism. Black players are routinely abused by crowds in Spain, Italy and in Eastern Europe. The English Football authorities want strong action from UEFA and FIFA, Football’s European and World governing bodies. English Football claims a high moral ground because the routine racial abuse of the very few black players actually playing football in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s has largely been stopped thru a campaign “Kick Racism Out”. It was routine for football crowds to make monkey noises and throw bananas at black players.
Certainly I remember the “Letters” page in a football magazine in the 1960s. People used to send in fantasy football teams based perhaps on only using occupations such as “Farmer”, “Cook”, “Archer” or perhaps players whose names were “Green”, “Brown”, “White”, “Black”. Harmless but once someone sent in a letter and it was duly published. A team made up of BLACK people. In those days it was so unusual that the writer had to scour the ninety two teams in English football to come up with ELEVEN names.
Of course three things have changed since the bad old days. First off, about thirty per cent of all English football teams are black. There are over fifty nationalities represented in the twenty teams in the English Premiership. These include players from Nigeria, Senegal, Ghana, Togo etc but also second and third generation English-born players. Secondly, the major stadia are all-seater. Secondly, there is no terracing where gangs of like-minded thugs can stand together and shout obscenities. Thirdly, although black faces are still under-represented in football crowds, they are more visible than before. Lastly, the climate (in public at least) is different and the tolerance levels for racists is lower. People can get banned from football matches or face criminal charges.
Which brings me back to Luis Saurez. The English Football authorities dithered about the Saurez-Evra incident for too long and eventually held a disciplinary hearing this week. Suarez has been banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 (he earns £80,000 per week). Seemingly there was no hard evidence…..only Evra’s allegation and the Saurez admission. Perhaps they also dithered in giving due/undue consideration to the mitigation…that it was customary in Uruguay.
Perhaps English Football HAD to act. They have accused UEFA and FIFA of being less than whole-hearted in condemning racism in Spanish football grounds. It would have been a double standard to have excused Spanish-speaking Saurez. Sepp Blatter, the German who is in charge of World Football was ridiculed in the English media for saying that most of these “racist” incidents on the field of play should be settled with a handshake at the end of the game.
Blatter was effectively saying that what happens on the Sports field should stay on the sports field. Having ridicule Blatter, English Football would have much preferred if Saurez had simply denied the charge against him as there was no real proof against him.
Liverpool FC are annoyed at what they see as the unfair treatment meted out to Saurez. But they have taken their sense of injustice too far. On Wednesday night, Liverpool played at Wigan Athletic FC. During the warm up before the game, Liverpool players (and their manager) wore Tshirts “Saurez #7”, a clear gesture of support. During last nights game Liverpool fans were cheering every time Saurez touched the ball. More depressing was that Wigan fans booed every time that Saurez touched the ball. We should not draw the conclusion that Liverpool fans were supporting Racism. Or that Wigan fans were taking a stance against Racism. Rather this was shabby Tribalism. At the very moment that Football fans should be pulling together ….they are polarised.
The second case is that of John Terry…….captain of Chelsea FC and captain of England, who play in next years European Championship in Poland and Ukraine. Terry is loved by his own fans, loathed by others. At one level he is the tough “sergeant” and his men will follow him out of the trenches. He epitomises for some the British “bulldog spirit” . But on another level, he epitomises everything wrong with “modern” Football. He earns over £100,000 per week and acts accordingly…fast cars, women, incidents in night clubs. Shortly after 9/11 he was one of a group of Chelsea players reprimanded for hurling abuse at American tourists. Two years ago it was revealed he had slept with the girlfriend of a Chelsea team-mate and lost the captaincy of England for a short time.
Seemingly re-habilitated and restored to the England captaincy, John Terry was involved in an incident during a match at Queens Park Rangers FC. Cameras showed him launch a verbal tirade on Anton Ferdinand, a black player. Eagle-eyed deaf viewers who know how to lip-read reported a racist dimension. Terry denied this vehemently.
Although the incident was months ago, the London Police and “Crown Prosecution Service” have reviewed the video evidence and charged Terry with racially abusing Ferdinand. Note that this is a criminal charge, not a disciplinary matter within Football.John Terry will appear in a London court in February and if convicted faces a fine of up to £2,500.
Last night Terry played for Chelsea against Tottenham Hotspur FC. And depressingly every time he touched the ball, he was cheered by his own fans and roundly booed by the Spurs’ fans. Again Tribalism trumped Racism.
But he has given English Football a dilemna. He vehemently denies the charge and naturally he is innocent until proven guilty. But for the moment, England’s captain is charged with racist abuse. English Football cannot “sack” him. Nor is Terry willing to stand aside.
But I think it is naive for anyone to believe that “innocent until proven guilty” necessarily means that there is no need for the issue to be addressed. A man charged with murder is innocent until proven guilty…..but his life changes..he might well be remanded in custody. If this example seems extreme consider the case of ………..say……….a High School teacher charged with racial abuse in his school. He is likely to be asked to stay away from the school until his court case is heard and he is free to resume his duties.
So I think that John Terry must stand aside as England captain. Failing that he should be compelled to do so.
Yet the stakes are high. A “Guilty” verdict for John Terry would surely be the end of his football career.