Racism in Football – a Supporter’s view

It’s time for another trawl through some of the recent news stories, to find out what’s been grinding my gears lately…

One of the big topics, that has managed that migration from the back pages to the front pages, surrounds the sadly on-going issue of racism in football.

As everyone is no doubt fully aware, incidents of racist abuse in football have been happening both on and off the pitch over the past year. We recently witnessed some terrible racist chanting from Serbian supporters towards England’s Under-21 side throughout their Euro 2013 qualifier, which was won by a late England goal to put us through whilst the Serbian side were eliminated.

On the pitch behaviour has scarcely been better. We are still working through the consequences of the abuse levelled by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez towards Patrice Evra of Manchester Utd, which earned the Liverpool man an eight-match ban. And (a whole year on from the incident itself) Chelsea’s John Terry is currently serving a four-match ban for racially insulting QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. This latter case even warranted a criminal charge and a day in court, where the increased burden of criminal proof led to an acquittal, although Terry was later found guilty in an FA industrial hearing and banned, along with receiving a £220,000 fine.

These incidents are saddening, and have no place in what is still termed ‘the beautiful game’. However, they are indicative of society, and as racism still has a hold in general life, it’s not going to be easy to eradicate it from the terraces or the pitches.

One organisation trying to do this is the Kick It Out campaign, whose remit is to highlight instances and work towards changing the culture of players, supporters and institutions within football. The problem with Kick It Out is that it’s largely toothless. Or so say those players who refused to wear their t-shirts over the past weekend, a weekend when all players were asked to do so to show support for the campaign.

Now, the aims of Kick It Out are admirable, but there are several problems that I can see.

Firstly, the organisation (created under the FA banner) is woefully underfunded, with an annual budget of just £500,000 – barely double the fine levied on John Terry. In addition, they have no powers to actually do anything but talk (and print t-shirts) and there’s no real sense from the players and supporters (whatever their race) that they have any connection with Kick It Out.

So here’s what I would do:

Firstly, they need a remit to be far more proactive. Instead of just communicating, they need to be able to run training sessions, focus groups, even ‘rehab’ sessions where issues have been identified, all of this up and down the country at all levels of the game. There should not be a club in the land where Kick It Out isn’t visible and represented.

This of course, brings my second point into play, which is funding. There’s no way that the organisation can do all of the things it needs to do to be effective, given the budget. This budget needs to be drastically increased, possibly up to £10 million a year (yes, I know that’s a 20 fold increase, but the game is hardly in poverty).

The source of this extra funding will cover my final point nicely.

The additional cash will come from several sources: Firstly the FA themselves, who (if they are serious about cutting this cancer from the game, must properly invest in the organisation they set up to achieve that goal. Secondly, each and every club should contribute, based on their level within the league structure, as a commitment to the cause. There should also be a contribution from the players directly (possibly through their union) so that not only do players understand and acknowledge the issue and the campaign, they have a direct personal and professional stake in the success of Kick It Out. Lastly, supporters need to understand that some things go far above individual club or country allegiances, and that by contributing (through bucket collections at games, or at locally organised fundraising events) they engage with the aims and ambitions that we should all share.

An off-shoot of this is that certain black players have started talking about forming a breakaway black players association, thinking that only they can represent their views properly.

I agree with those who feel that this will only ever become more divisive rather than less so, as it creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality from the off.

What’s next? A separate Players Union for ginger blokes? Oh well, I guess someone has to look out for Steve Sidwell….

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