The increasingly vile head of racist abuse in British Football reared itself once more yesterday as Chelsea’s 2-0 victory over Spurs at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was marred by racist gesturing and chanting aimed at Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger. After the sending off of Son Heung-min in the second half, the German international signalled to the referee and his captain that he was on receiving end of ‘monkey chants’, the type that have been synonymous with racist abuse and football stadiums over the recorded history of the game. What followed was something new for the domestic game, as a newly installed protocol was carried out where the game was stopped and all appropriate authorities were informed, including the managers of each side. This was then followed by regular stadium announcements firmly reminding the crowd that racist abuse (or anti social behaviour as it termed at first) is unacceptable.
As evidently, that still needs to be pointed out in 2019.
Unfortunately, this new response to the problem stood in the face of abuse that only seems to be getting worse and is now happening with a frightening regularity. And in truth reactive responses are useless in the face of abuse that has already taken place, clearly there needs to be a uniform response to the problem from the authorities that have the power to enforce sanctions that might actually make fans think twice about shouting such sickening abuse. Though that will only be a short term solution as currently a long term solution remains unclear. What is evident though is that the stakeholders of British football are still not taking the issue nearly seriously enough, a fact that was showcased on Sky Sports last night.
After passionate comments by long time Sky pundit Gary Neville, which included him mentioning that racism was accepted ‘in the highest offices in the country’ and eluding to the fact that racism in football is a macro problem and not the cliched and ever tiring ‘few bad apples’ analogy that is still banded about in 2019. The former Manchester United defender was curtly informed by Sky presenter Dave Jones that his views were his own and not those of Sky Sports. A visibly bemused and angry Neville questioned whether Jones agreed with what he had said and Jones (with producers clearly screaming into his ear piece) again towed the Sky Sports party line, stating that his own opinion was irrelevant and that he was simply trying to hold a balanced debate, again much to the annoyance of an exasperated Neville. Who like any rational human being would assert that there is no debate when it comes to racist abuse.
Jones’ untimely interruption of what was an on point societal discussion for a football show lead to online criticism of the Sky presenter who later took to Twitter to apologise for ‘shutting down’ the discussion and clarify why he had to check Neville’s comments (it was apparently the mentioning of two political parties and racism that forced Jones to interject). Though despite Jones’now iconic ‘those are not the views of Sky Sports’ line being critiqued the most, former Chelsea, Arsenal and England full back Ashley Cole’s open and simplified assessment of the problem was also dealt with at arms length. Cole eluded to the fact that he had been racially abused many times in UK stadiums during his career, which again he was awkwardly made to clarify by Jones. The MNF and Super Sunday host, with his bosses in his ear, was clearly on edge during the whole debate, and in part trying to guide the discussion away from the ever honest opinions of people who had actually experienced constant abuse or had been privy to it for many a year.
Neville’s and Cole’s criticism of how shallow the treatment the Kick It Out campaign is by clubs, which is widely seen as one of the strongest anti-racism movements in football, was truly enlightening. Cole and Neville revealed that players are simply asked by a club’s media manager to pose for a photo or two with a Kick it Out t-shirt on which they can then take off after five minutes. Neville also claimed that for years footballers did not care about racist abuse as they were ‘programmed’ to simply playing the game and it’s only in his years as a pundit that he has realised how bad the problem actually was and is. While Cole tiredly asserted that he has no idea how to solve the problem and hinted that only education over the long term will help. Though, he also mentioned the important fact that to many football is a release. And that individuals full of alcohol in a familiar group setting feel comfortable enough to ‘let their mask slip’, which hinted that abuse is possibly a consequence of deluded peer pressure mixed with some unsavoury views on certain issues.
The fall out over Jones’ comments lead to Sky Sports underlining Jones’ Twitter apology with a blanket ‘we hate racism’ statement yet the damage is done when it comes Sky letting their own mask slip over the issue at a critical moment. They could have made a stand and supported Neville’s position (who is easily their most popular pundit) yet instead they wielded to the corporate interests that define their legacy. Bland, reactionary statements after the fact will do nothing to fix what is now a major problem for British football, not just the Bulgarian or Italian football cultures who we have been so quick to jump recently on when it comes to the issue of racist abuse in the sport. If the relevant authorities continue to simply respond to the next incident (that will happen before the end of season) then they will never get in front of the issue.
The PFA issued a strong statement on Sunday evening asserting that a government enquiry into the rise of racism in football is merited and that now is time for ‘all governing bodies to unite collectively to end this abuse . Strong words no doubt yet they come from an organisation that heavily under funds organisations like Kick it Out, so words mean little until actual action begins to be taken. Enough is clearly enough, yet you wonder how times that has to be said before we actually sort this issue out, in football and society.
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