Last Saturday afternoon, the recent saga of racism in football continued, with Luis Suarez, the Liverpool player who racially abused Patrice Evra of Manchester United, refusing to shake hands with him. Alan Shearer on Match of the day said of the unsporting behaviour, ‘It’s a bad day for football, it’s a bad day for the premier league’!
On Sunday afternoon, Suarez issued an apology saying, ‘I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra’s hand and I want to apologise.’
All these incidents of racism in football over the past few months have made me wonder what’s going on. As a black Briton, racism has always been a part of my life, the name calling, the patronising comments and the occasional glances from people who for some reason or another think your face doesn’t fit.
It’s never really bothered me, because even though it can sometimes make life hard, Britain is essentially a fair society with checks, balances and accountability to make sure bigoted points of view are marginalised. I was particularly proud of how the collective society stood up against Nick Griffin when he appeared on Question Time and made him sound oafish to say the least. ( I rather suspect the BBC stacked the audience to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible, but that’s just my personal opinion). I was particularly proud that his appearance happened after an extensive debate about whether or not his views should even be allowed on Question Time and the BBC, rightly so, decided that every point of view is valid and since he was an elected official (the BNP had won a seat in the European parliament), he had the right to be on the panel. The rest as they say, is history. It later emerged that due mainly to that appearance on Question Time, his following within his own party, disintegrated.
So as an avid football fan, (you might say I was born into it as I was born in the year England won the world cup, a mere week later, not a million miles away from Wembley) it’s very upsetting to see the spectacle of racism in football, not just in England, but around the continent. There seems to be some implication that, because we live in an ‘equal’ society, it should be okay to name-call. There is a point of view that things said on the pitch should be exempt as utterings in the heat of the moment. The sanction on Luis Suarez for his language, is proof that, that point of view is plainly wrong. What is also wrong is the way Liverpool Football club has handled it since.
Liverpool, like the football club has always been a pioneer when it comes to diversity, as a town with a thriving dock, it was one of the first to have a diverse population and get used to faces of a different colour. I remember many years ago when the premier league was very white, Liverpool was one of the few clubs that had a black player, John Barnes, and they gained many black London supporters because of it, some of whom still remain loyal fans.
I don’t think this track record however, gives them the right to disregard racist behaviour even if it is by one of their best players. There is a line that should always be drawn on or off the pitch that says people should not be abused based on their race. Every time a person is called a racial slur, all those prejudices we are working hard to eradicate, come rushing back and that is something nobody wants.
I have to agree with Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary when he said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show ‘I would say that, as a society, one of the main reasons we have made huge strides in changing attitudes to racial discrimination is because of the changes in football. The lesson of the last couple of months is that you can never be complacent and the prime minister is very, very concerned to make sure that we don’t go back to the bad old days but also that we are absolutely on our mettle to make sure that the football authorities and the government continue to do everything we can to stamp out this problem.’ Hear! Hear!