by Tony Attwood
Of course as a regular football supporter who is not a criminologist I can’t give you a definitive answer to that question in the headline. But I can raise a point that I think is sometimes missed in the debate.
At the moment racism in football in England is big news. “Resurgent racism illustrates just how much work football still has to do” said a headline in the Guardian. “Twitter urged to tackle ‘vile’ racist abuse towards stars like Mohamed Salah and Raheem Sterling” was at the top of an article in the Mirror.
What’s more, some publications are offering more general approaches… The Independent for example has a section titled, “Racism in football – latest news, breaking stories and comment” while CNN has “Racism in Football -CNN investigates the scourge of soccer that is racism in football.”
And yes there are incidents arising all the time. Zaha was called “a diving monkey” for example, while Danny Rose has been much commented upon after he said, “I can’t wait to see the back of football.” And of course Raheem Sterling has long been calling for action.
And it is happening at all levels. Nathan Byrne of Wigan posted an picture of a truly awful message he received on Twitter. Northampton Town have said their players had been racially abused while walking in Nottingham before a game against Notts County.
The whole issue takes me back to a complaint I raised years ago, when Sol Campbell was playing for Portsmouth against Tottenham, and was subjected to the most awful abuse from the visiting supporters. It was reported that little action was taken because of the difficulty of identifying the supporters involved.
And yet all those supporters in the away end would have bought their tickets through the club or touts, and all were caught on film. If it were shown that many of those filmed were not the people who had bought tickets then all those who bought tickets and sold them on, could have been banned. As it was I think hardly anyone was dealt with.
So yes, sometimes clubs could do more. But it seems to me there is another dimension to all this which is not being looked at. The idea being propogated in the media is that this is a particular football problem. Not that racism and abuse does not exist anywhere else, but that it is particularly prevelant in football.
And yet it clearly does exist in many parts of society in England, and it is clearly, from my observation in town centres, getting worse.
But I would add that the increase in racism is, it seems to me, linked to an increase in abuse in general. For (and again I have to stress – “it seems to me”) abuse is, for some people, becoming the start of any discussion or disagreement. One hears and sees it on the streets, when driving, everywhere.
There is of course abuse going on in other countires – the French Gilets Jaunes movement incorporated a fair amount of abuse on all sides, but my impression is that abuse elsehwere is not at the centre of everyday life as it is becoming in parts of England.
Now if I am right, focussing on the current situation both as a racism issue, and a football issue, are not helping. That is not to say that the abuse the media has been focussing is not racist – of course it is, and of course that is intolerable. But it is possible to argue that what we are seeing in football is just a concentrated version of what exists all over the country, and that racism is just one particularly nasty example of a culture of abuse.
Whether, in the short term, England can turn itself from a country that seems to be focussed on abuse first and reasoned discussion last, into the reverse, I rather doubt. But putting the blame on football not only does football an injustice, but also excuses politicians from looking at a much broader problem.
A few arrests, a few bland statements about not tolerating this, are not getting rid of the problem, largely I think because football is a microcosm of our society.
I don’t offer any solutions, but I do think that the media have a vested interest in portraying the issue as a football issue, because the alternative is to say that something is rotten in the whole state of England. And that is not a message that any media outlet will set out, because it attacks its own readers.
Bleak times, I fear, are ahead.
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