By Tony Attwood
If we want to combat racism just about the worst way to do it, I would have thought, is for a very rich man to get angry at the shirt worn or not worn by another very rich man. Ferdinand chose not to wear a Kick it Out shirt, and Ferguson gives him a dressing down, which is announced in public. Has the anti-racism cause benefited? I doubt it.
After all Ferguson was not shouting at Ferdinand for being a racist – but for making him (Ferguson) embarrassed after he had criticised Jason Roberts’s refusal to support Kick It Out.
The obvious conclusion is that Ferguson’s standing as he who must be obeyed is seen as more important than getting rid of racism.
Agreeing with the aims of a campaign but not the means nor the results achieved, is something we have long experienced in Britain. Racism has been opposed for years, but is still with us, as is homophobia. Indeed “official” campaigns are often the less effective.
One only has to think back to the early years of the 20th century to see this in action in England.
Today we don’t speak of or remember the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which believed in issuing leaflets, organising meetings and presenting petitions. It was because this movement had no effect that Emmeline Pankhurst founded the more radical and militant Women’s Social and Political Union. The Daily Mail gave them the name Suffragettes and it was their radical approach that we now remember – and which achieved votes for women in parliamentary elections.
As a white English male I have only had the most minor experience of anything akin to racism when I lived for a year in Algeria – and this basically involved having stones thrown at me as I walked home from work each night, probably in the mistaken belief that my non-Arab looks suggested I was French.
That was enough to make me believe that strong action was needed against racism, and I am not sure that the desire for every player to wear the T-shirt is having much effect.
That’s just my view, but if any players have such a view that Kick it Out is not working because (perhaps) it is not tackling Uefa and Fifa, then surely they should be allowed to express it.
Clarke Carlisle, the PFA chairman, said: “Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt – although I do personally believe that joining in with the campaign is the best way forward. And then for all these players to get together and put what it is they want down on paper so we together as a union – all the players, one with another – can make those changes and move forward.
“Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the Kick It Out campaign which is commendable and what we all want to see but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand.
“This shouldn’t be seen as an element of control or defiance – just like Sir Alex Ferguson said when he was talking about Jason Roberts in his first interview, he doesn’t know the reasons why this stand is being made and what we should do first of all is hear those reasons and listen to them and take them on board.
“I would sincerely hope that Sir Alex Ferguson now speaks with Rio Ferdinand and asks him why he wanted to make that stand and hopefully supports the position he is in and it isn’t seen as a player-against-manager situation.”
Racism in football stadia is rampant in parts of the world, and the biggest problem is still that Uefa and Fifa, two bodies to which the FA and Premier League subscribe, are through their actions supporting racism. If they did nothing, then at least we could accuse them of doing nothing. But to find associations for racist chanting at a level that is a fraction of the fine level and imprisonment imposed on people for “unlicensed marketing” is the greatest insult of all.
David Moyes, not for the first time, was the one who got it right. Speaking of Victor Anichebe and Sylain Distin he said, “I think they’re disappointed, not with the Kick It Out campaign, but with other authorities and the way they’ve taken action.”
But of course with a sense of historical inevitability the biggest problem of all is that once again football and its supporters are being presented as the problem that needs special treatment, as if somehow football supporters are a different breed. We are back to 1985 when the Conservative Party Conference went berserk with support for laws against trade union pickets and football hooligans. It is not the society that we have had created by our political masters that is at fault – it is little groups of left wingers and other misfits who we can blame.
As a result the Public Order Act targeted people like football fans, and we are still suffering from this differentiation; we are treated in different ways from everyone else. Yes of course football supporters who indulge in racism and homophobia should be dealt with within the law, but not by a separate set of laws laid down for football. And not be a set of laws laid down by such organisations as Fifa, Uefa and the like
Away fans are not by definition violent racists who need to treated as sub-humans – and to treat us as such (as still often happens) causes more and more problems. We are monitored, photographed, recorded, and then put on file – although then when it comes to dealing with people this way, the police seem singularly inept. Consider, as always, the failure of the Portsmouth police to take action over the 2 hours of homophobic abuse directed at Sol Campbell by Tottenham supporters, as I endlessly quote.
The fact is that there are problems within football, particularly with chanting – as Mr Wenger knows to his cost, match after match. The words are printed on line, rehearsed in pubs and sung in the ground. Lots of fuss is made, but Kick It Out does not seem to have had any effect on the people who are the real problem: Uefa and Fifa. I am not at all sure I want the world for follow Scotland with the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act where you can be imprisoned for up to five years for singing ‘offensive’ songs. I wouldn’t mind seeing everyone who has worked for the FA in support of Uefa and Fifa being subject to “assisting in the continuance of racism on an international scale by insisting it is less important than the economic rights of major Corporations.
In the end Kick it Out t-shirts are not the key issue. Uefa and Fifa, and the support granted them through association by the FA and Premier League, are the issue.