Players banned for racist abuse, fans arrested for racially abusing opposing players, politicians channeling colonialism to make racial generalisation… Rich Ward tries to make some sense of it.
The past few weeks have seen racism dominating the headlines in the world of both football and politics, with the abuse of Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi by a Liverpool fan – who has since been arrested and bailed – the latest ugly incident in a series of ugly incidents.
However, the real problems began as far back as October last year when two separate events involving notorious striker Luis Suarez and England captain John Terry, who is no stranger to controversy himself, put racism in the spotlight.
For Terry, his fate awaits him in court on February 1st, but for Suarez the FA has already meted out an eight game ban.
This, ironically, will see him play against his victim Patrice Evra’s Manchester United side in his first away game back from suspension, with Liverpool asking to hold crisis talks with their opponents beforehand.
Aside from players making racist remarks in the heat of battle on the football pitch, what has been even more disappointing as the racism row has rumbled on are the rather more calculated comments by leading figures that have set a terrible example for fans and players alike.
First, there was FIFA president Sepp Blatter’s infamous “handshake” suggestion for how on-pitch racism could be settled, followed by his cringeworthy attempt to diffuse the situation by appearing in a photo with the anti-apartheid campaigner Tokyo Sexwale.
Then came “King” Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool’s incredible t-shirt stunt, when the entire squad was seen sporting tops emblazoned with Suarez’s image.
Even in the face of the Uruguayan’s ban, which the FA explained in a detailed 115-page report, including citing inconsistencies in the striker’s evidence, the Liverpool manager and the club remained totally unrepentant.
Glen Johnson pledged his support – it would be interesting to know for certain if Suarez calls him “negro” as has been suggested – Dalglish said “let him not walk alone” and the club insisted there was no evidence (even though Suarez openly admitted using the term) and also attempted to discredit Evra – ignoring Suarez’s own extensive rap sheet in the process.
Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, these gestures seem to have been the catalyst for the abuse of Adeyemi last Friday when, after the player confronted a member of the crowd shouting racist abuse, fans began signing Suarez’s name, some wearing replica Suarez t-shirts.
Alongside this football-related incident, politicians have been inadvertently joining the discourse of racism in recent days.
First, it was the turn of shadow cabinet member Diane Abbott to hit the social media self-destruct button by posting an apparently racist tweet on Twitter – her excuse that she was referring to colonialism tempered somewhat by her use of the present tense.
Even then, referring to colonialism seems to be a very regressive way of thinking – much like the mentality of those who defended her online by saying it is somehow acceptable to be racist if you are black.
If racism is ever to be eradicated from society respect must surely work both ways and disparaging references to another person’s skin colour – whichever colour that may be – not tolerated under any circumstances.
This is where I feel the comments by Alan Hansen – the football pundit who himself ploughed into the storm of controversy with his unintelligent reference to “coloured” players – differed, as he was making a positive statement about the influence of black footballers on the Premier League.
Abbott’s leader Ed Miliband then proceeded to compound Labour’s political own goal with a gaffe of his own, unbelievably tweeting a “Blackbusters” tribute to TV personality Bob Holness.
But where does this linguistic melee, which we have seen these past months, leave us?
Well, there have been two footballers charged – one banned for eight games as we know and the other facing a trip to court – and one fan arrested, whose fate has yet to be determined.
However, a FIFA president, a Premier League manager and a leading politician have made shocking comments – all of which could be construed as racist and at the very least naive and provocative – yet not a single one of them has been punished in any way whatsoever.
If society is to progress, it is high time that these kinds of powerful figures started leading in a much more progressive and positive way when it comes to racism.
Then maybe, just maybe, we can avoid a repeat of the shameful scenes at Anfield that left Tom Adeyemi in tears.
Find Rich on Twitter at @richjward