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Race for Football

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Football has, in the last year been taken from its comfort zone on racism and anti-Semitism to be forced to acknowledge that these evils have not been eradicated from football in the UK and certainly not in Europe. The continuing catalogue of racial incidents from the racial abuse of Luis Suarez and John Terry to the abuse suffered by an U15 black team in Leicester a few weeks ago and the appalling events in Rome a few nights ago underline the seriousness of the situation. The sanctions by the FA and the actions of both Chelsea and Liverpool FC underlined the problem. As usual, the black victims were isolated and vilified and the perpetrators supported.

The achievements of the past years in reducing the more overt racism suffered by black players on and off the pitch has led to a complacency that diluted the message from “Kick Racism Out” to “Kick it Out” in 1997. Campaigns such as “Show Racism the Red card” have clearly failed to achieve substantive change either in the Board room or the selection of managers and coaches of any major club or the England team itself. The refusal of black players to wear the “Respect” T Shirt came as no surprise to the PFA and FA who knew for months about the complaints of black players which they had repeatedly ignored.

The “Clattenberg” incident once again illustrated the reaction of the football industry who were happy to assert that such matters remain the preserve of football. The failure of the FA and clubs to monitor racial incidents according o the MacPherson definition, now some 14 years old, where the victim or any other person believes it is a racial incident, is a disgrace. It leads to dramatic under-reporting by fans and players alike.

The Society of Black Lawyers in seeking to challenge racism and anti-Semitism in football have been accused of being “naïve”, “publicity seeking”, “unhelpful” or out to “get work”. The same was said in 1986 when we demonstrated against the killing of children by the apartheid regime in South Africa, or exposed racism in the Judiciary, and in the catalogue of racial murders that culminated in the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Organisations or individuals who speak out on human rights are seldom welcome from those whose inaction or collusion with racism is challenged.

The FA, PFA, Premier League and Football League must realise that hate crime is a humiliating and painful experience whether the victim is a professional footballer or a teenager playing in Leicester on a Saturday morning. Zero tolerance must mean just that. Racism and anti Semitism in football is everyone’s problem and those that think it can be some form of no go area for the law are sadly mistaken. One of the consequences of such complacency is that football grounds, with some notable exceptions, continue to be a largely white affair.

SBL is aware that several London clubs have a history of anti-Semitic abuse exposed by Jewish comedian David Baddiel. The chief sports writer at the Independent, James Lawton, noted that the “Y” word “was used by the Nazi military governor of Kiev when he ordered the city’s Jewish population to assemble at a certain point and make itself available for relentless slaughter”. The notion that Tottenham fans, less than 5% of whom are likely to be Jewish, can reclaim a word of genocide, slaughter and humiliation, is an insult to anyone’s intelligence. The link between the appalling incidents in Rome of the last few days and the “Y” word chanting is obvious. The Chanting of the “Y” word simply legitimizes anti-Semitic abuse by other fans. There is no irony in that, just insensitivity and ignorance of the worst kind, The dreadful attack on Spurs fans in Rome and the chanting of the “Juden Tottenham” by Lazio fans was condemned by the President of the Italian Soccer Association Giancarlo Abete as an “unspeakable attack that damages the image of our football”.

Those words are mere rhetoric unless the response of UEFA and other bodies to such systematic abuse is to automatically halt the match, identify perpetrators. and if it continues to abandon the match and award the game to the opposing team. Nothing less than a serious deterrent effect will stop clubs and fans permitting the agenda to be set by a small group of racists. Racism and anti Semitism is far too serious a matter of public concern to be left in the hands of the few when the majority suffer the consequences. www.blacklawyer.co.uk

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