Show Racism the Red Card held a fringe meeting at the Communication Workers Union Conference
Former footballers Leroy Rosenior and Paul Mortimer were top of the bill at a packed CWU conference fringe meeting last month promoting the ongoing fight against prejudice and bigotry.
Mortimer, who played for Charlton Athletic, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace back in the 1990s and is currently managing Charlton’s women’s side, explained how sportspeople like him, Rosenior and many others are working with a range of other organisations to rid society of all forms of discrimination.
“Our campaign - Show Racism the Red Card - is about educating,” he explained “and we want to give people the courage to challenge racism in sport and in society, as it happens.
“Everyone in here has the power to effect some sort of change,” he told the meeting, adding: “We shouldn’t put racist incidents to one side, we should deal with them there and then.”
Ex-West Ham, QPR and Fulham striker Rosenior told of how his early career was blighted by prejudice from racist fans, who abused his family when they came to watch him play for QPR.
“I scored the winning goal and after the match a man came up and asked for my autograph,” he recalled, but then added that his family told him that the same man had been sat behind them during the match and had been racially abusing them.
“I hadn’t faced racism until I started playing professional football,” he continued, giving other examples of Leeds United fans making nazi-style salutes and Millwall supporters throwing bananas onto the pitch at him and other black players.
He then moved onto other forms of prejudice and talked of an incident during his West Ham days involving gay footballer Justin Fashanu, who had a short spell at the east London club towards the end of his career.
“I was in the changing rooms, and there were three of us in the communal bath that we had at the time but, when he came in, I stayed there, but the other two got up and walked out,” Rosenior told the audience.
Fashanu - at the time football’s first-ever openly gay player - committed suicide a few years later, after having been ostracised by fellow professionals and Rosenior spoke of how he regretted not having confronted his other team-mates’ prejudices at the time.
“I never saw him again,” Rosenior continued, adding that, “when I heard he had hung himself I vowed I’d never let anything go like that again.
“Now I will stand up for anybody if they’re discriminated against. I didn’t before, but Fash’s death changed that.
“Please, when you walk away today, ask yourself if you can make a difference,” he urged, pointing to the fundamental changes that have taken place in society - the election of a black US president and the introduction of gay marriages for example - as a result of people not “letting things go” and challenging prejudice and bigotry.
Other speakers at the event - which was jointly organised by the CWU’s youth and equality departments - included political writer Owen Jones and anti-racism campaigner Weyman Bennett.
Speaking after the meeting, CWU head of equality Linda Roy said: “All the speakers were great and some of the personal accounts from Paul and Leroy were very moving indeed and their message of ‘challenge prejudice - don’t let it go’ is something that I hope everyone will have taken away with them.
CWU Youth national chair Ryan Case said: “I was blown away by the number of people who turned up to the meeting – one of the best-attended conference fringe meetings of the week. And every speaker put their own perspective on the subject and I was glad that the issue of homophobia in sport was addressed as well as racism. Even a couple of days later, people were still coming up to me and saying how much they’d enjoyed the event.
“Many thanks to all the speakers and to everyone who came,” he added.
Show Racism the Red Card is grateful for the ongoing support of the CWU and welcomed the opportunity to speak to delegates at the conference.