What exactly are we trying to kick out?
This follows on from my previous post about racism in football, which was directed at the Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand.
The issue won’t go away. In just the last week:
– A “Black Footballers’ Association” has been mooted
– On Saturday the BBC’s Football Focus pundits were discussing whether to use positive discrimination to produce a black manager of the England football team
– The referee Mark Clattenburg has been accused of using “racial language” against John Obi Mikel and another Chelsea player during their game against Manchester United on Sunday
I’ve discussed racism a number of times on this blog before, for example here and here. Although the style of those posts might have been light-hearted in places I wouldn’t want that to be interpreted as me not taking racism seriously. Racism is VERY BAD and racists are VERY BAD PEOPLE. Simple as that. But I don’t think we really achieve much by regurgitating the same knackered old clichés. We need to speak openly and frankly about racism and yes, why not be a bit light-hearted at times?
It’s also important we don’t create the impression of a problem that’s completely out of control, or take our eye off other unacceptable behaviour which might be doing even more harm than racism. In the context of football this means homophobia.
Here are some genuine questions for the Football Association, and all those concerned about racism in football, to consider.
1. Racism affects everyone, not just black people. Will the FA be just as vigorous in kicking out all forms of racist behaviour, such as racist language with a Scottish/Welsh/Irish/French/Mexican etc twist?
2. Will the FA be rigorous in kicking out racist language even when it’s used by black players?
3. If there is to be a Black Footballers’ Association would you have to be black to join it? If so, how black? Is mixed race ok? What if a prospective member has just one black great-grandparent but seven white great-grandparents? What if you’re white but you have adoptive black parents?
4. Would the establishment of a Black Footballers’ Association create the misleading impression that racism only affects black people?
5. Would the establishment of a Black Footballers’ Association also imply that all black players think and speak with one voice? Like other people, black people are all different. They don’t always agree with each other. This obsession with creating homogenous “communities” who all walk, talk and think the same, although possibly well-intentioned, often has unintended and unpleasant consequences: those who don’t agree with the party line are pressured to go along with it regardless, at the expense of their own individual conscience, and it also encourages other groups to form their own “communities” which in the end is all very divisive and counter-productive.
6. What is the FA’s position on positive discrimination? Should black applicants be given an arbitrary advantage when the England manager’s job next becomes vacant? And again, how do we define “black”? I don’t want anyone to be refused a job because of their skin colour (in football or elsewhere) but neither do I want them to get a job because of their skin colour. Why? Because by definition that would mean someone else had been refused the job because of their skin colour. Which is racist. Innit.
7. Why focus on racism? No-one’s saying racism has been eradicated in football but enormous progress has been made in this country in a relatively short time, both institutionally as an industry and in terms of racist incidents. The far more serious problem for football is homophobia: there is currently not one openly homosexual professional footballer in Britain. Why doesn’t the FA focus its energy on that, whilst still supporting anti-racism initiatives? If it’s difficult to be a black footballer then just imagine how difficult it is to be a gay footballer (and you don’t have to imagine how difficult it is to be a gay black footballer because you can read about the life of the late Justin Fashanu here). Does the FA have the balls to tackle homophobia?