“I was speaking at an event last week about racism in football, at the end of which questions were taken from the floor. One gentleman asked a double-barreled question which captures what I am asked most when I speak on the topic- are things getting worse in football? And does the current political climate make things worse? My answer to both is “no”. Though your natural instincts may say otherwise, let me explain.
Racism has always been there, in football stadiums, in society. There are far less outward and aggressive expressions of racism than there were say 20 years ago. I think that is down to a shift in attitudes, a decrease in acceptance of those expressions of racism, an understanding that racism can never again be excused as “banter”, and that the majority, even when it’s not directed at them, are genuinely offended.
There are any number of people and organizations who have championed cultural this shift. Programs like ours at Show Racism the Red Card and Kick it Out help, but nothing drives change more than everyday people, standing up to the offending, being heard, and supporting each other in those stances.
Which brings me to the second part of the question, and more specifically, why are we, why is football, in 2019, still dealing with issues such as those witnessed at Stamford Bridge with Raheem Sterling and more recently Montenegro with Danny Rose?
I believe the current political climate has empowered the far right and racist elements of today’s society. The responses have been quick, which is heartening.
The big question is where do we go from here? How do we arrest this seeming shift to supremacism and the underlying currents that continue to propel it?
I also understand the position that what happens within football stadia is only a reflection of what is going on in the society of the day. Though I firmly believe that football has the power to lead change, and should. And in many ways football continues to do exactly that.
As fans we have to continue to show our disapproval of the offending behavior. Being in the silent majority is a shirking of your responsibility and no longer acceptable or excusable.
The players of today have done a good job in standing up to and highlighting the abuse when it does occur. From players of all ethnic backgrounds standing with and standing up for their teammates, to Raheem Sterling highlighting how the media continues to drive the negative connotations around black culture.
We in the media also have to do a better job of highlighting biases in our own industry and when the rhetoric crosses the line. We have to do a better job of leading by example ourselves, not just telling the stories but really showing that words do matter.
I also believe that a missing piece to this puzzle is at the very top. The highest levels of football have to do a better job of clamping down on the behaviors that are unacceptable. The closure of stadia, or parts of, remain a viable punishment, but that needs to be imposed more frequently to really be effective.
There are fines imposed, but I don’t think they go far enough. I firmly advocate for far steeper fines imposed, but also believe that the responsibility for the paying of those fines can be legally placed on the perpetrators. There are any number of ways that football associations, Confederations and FIFA can better structure those fines to a far more effective deterrent to the individuals while continuing to place some of the onus on the offending club or country.
I continue to believe that sport changes not just the lives of the participants but so much else all around it. Given the very nature of sport, from the diversity of the athletes to the global fanbases, from the humility in victory to the grace in defeat, sport should and can lead in providing the example to wider society. That responsibility falls on all of us involved with sport, at every level. We share a lot more than will ever come between us.”