Don’t just fight racism in football, fight discrimination in all walks of life

On Tuesday 16th.October, the former Bosnian Serb leader, Radovan Karadzic, told the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague that he “should be rewarded for his efforts and for doing all he could to stop the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina; a war that saw thousands of Serbs killed. Interestingly, the Under 21 footballers marked Radovan Karadzic’s day of reckoning in court, by unleashing one of the most racially laden abuses on “minority players” of the England team. What makes this prospectively scary is the fact that it was at an under 21 football level. Racism at all levels is unacceptable; but at such a “tender” level in football terms, one may wonder what these guys may be like when they graduate into full international players for Serbia.

Show racism the red card

In response to the racial abuse suffered by players like young Justin Rose, other senior black players including Jason Roberts, Rio Ferdinand and many others displayed their disappointment by refusing to wear the “kick it out” (KIO) T-shirts. It is sad that all this happened during Kick it out’s annual fortnight of anti-racism action that runs until 29 October. Sir Alex Fergusson and Arsene Wenger expressed their disappointments and criticisms for the boycott. In fairness to these managers, they have questioned the benefits of boycotting the “kick it out” campaign. Some will see the boycott as a sign of giving up on the fight against racism; and by so doing, giving in to the “racists”.  Leroy Rosenoir, former Fulham and West Ham striker called the action not to wear the T-shirts wrong. Others like Ian Wright; former Arsenal striker interprets the players’ stance as a response to the tokenism that is seen as the defining feature of KIO.

The theme of racism has been a high currency stakes recently. John Terry, former England captain received a four match ban and £200,000 fine for racially abusing Anton Ferdinand…..once. He was originally cleared of the same in a court of law. Luis Suarez, South American and Liverpool striker received an eight match ban and £40000 fine last year for the same offence. Spot the difference?  Part of the justification, if you can call it that, for the disparity is because, Terry said something horrible “once”. Whether you insult someone once or a million times is still horrible. Talk about cop outs. But what must have riled Jason Roberts and others is perhaps the deafening silence from KIO and “Give Racism the Red Card” on the FA’s doling of punishments in the matter. To his credit, Sir Alex Fergusson criticised the FA for their handling of the situation; which many saw as a response borne out of club rivalry at the time. The FA’s decision has been seen as very lenient on JT, with much emphasis on the £ side of things. Jt had many self anointed character referees come out in his defence to say that he is not a racist. No one ever said that JT was a racist. What they said was that JT racially abused Anton Ferdinand.

Many seasoned observers that have followed the issue of racism will be less surprised at the FA’s stance; as it appears to have taken a leaf out of its masters, UEFA and FIFA’s manual this time. Some have described the FA of double standards. Football clubs, national football associations and countries have had “fines” levied against them in the past. EUFA and FIFA’s idea of stamping out racism is measured in financial terms. A roll call of their fines includes Lazio (£32,500-2012) for racist chanting at Tottenham, Porto (£ 16,700-2012) for subjecting Mario Balotelli to vicious racist’s chants.

Compare that with Nicklas Bendtnar, who was BANNED for one match and FINED £80,000. His crime? For flashing the Paddy Power-branded waist band of his PANTS. Now you can see where the loyalties of these organisations lie; to their paymasters who provide the sponsorships. There is an endless catalogue of UEFA fines for racists’ behaviour from time immemorial. These organisations need their sponsors as their life support machines; but racism should not be one of its vending machines. Uefa and its cohorts will not ban teams for racists’ behaviour; for fear of breaking contractual agreements with their sponsors. With the kind of strangle hold these sponsors have, from deciding match days, match times , to team kits, you wonder whether it is these sponsors’ that actually stipulate the fines as well.

Looking at the paltry sums handed as fines to fans, clubs and organisations by UEFA , FIFA and other governing bodies, it is plausible to conclude that efforts to fight racism is comparatively a token gesture; aimed at political correctness. Many see the John Terry issue as a case in point; hence some players’ decisions not to dress in wolves clothing. There is no point trying to catalogue the number of UEFA’s missed opportunities to put a marker down against racism. We know of black players like Samuel Eto, who have threatened to walk off the pitch if racially abused. In response to their threats, UEFA promised to fine and ban any player that left the pitch under such circumstances. Double jeopardy.

Ruth Benedict once said that, “racism is an ism to which everyone in the world today is exposed; for or against, we must take sides. And the history of the future will differ according to the decision which we make”. It is obvious that such decisions made are wide ranging in their effects or intended impacts. Ferdinand and others may see the KIO T-shirt wearing as gesture politics, and rightly so. But by not wearing the T-Shirt may do far less good than wearing it. It will look like throwing in the towel, and giving the bigots more reasons to salute Hitler and their cohorts. There is no question that racism is borne out of ignorance, tinged with genetic misconception. But let us imagine what would have happened if Rosa Parkes, Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King had all given up at the first hurdle?

It is because of their perseverance that, there is no racially designated public transport, or racially designated toilets in US or South African. One guy “had a dream”, and because of him and so many, another guy is asking the most powerful nation to make him the most powerful man; for a second time. Priceless. So Jason, Ferdinand and so many others should remember that they have made their point, but its time to join the pioneers in the fight against discrimination; and football can be the greatest weapon. This is not one of those “if you can’t beat them, join them” issues. They should also remember that “impossible is nothing, perseverance is priceless”.

Racism should be seen as a form of skin worship and sickness that is causing pathological anxiety for many. It is always common to blame the immigrant when times are harder. With the current financial climate seemingly proving the law of gravity, anger and anxiety are becoming daily aspects of peoples’ lives. Football is the most popular sport in the world; but it also has the penchant to attract the worst of fans. Now that protests, strikes and civil disobedience are fast becoming the world’s biggest recreational sports, racism, hooliganism, violence and everything that the current financial climate has contrived to generate will eventually find a release in sports.

Governments can do their best to ban protests, strikes etc; would they be able to ban supporters from following their clubs? Some convenient cover for the racists? Laws have been set up to stop racism, but have the victims ever had the power to enforce them? Ferdinand, Jason Roberts and co, have made a statement by not wearing the T-shirts. By implication, they are asking especially UEFA, to pull its finger out. Now you’ve made your point; so we can get on with the programme of emancipating some people from bigotry and mental slavery. Perhaps we should start by fighting against DISCRIMINATION IN SPORTS and not just Racism. The banners should read: Give Discrimination the RED CARD. If we do that, everybody will get on board because the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, disabled, the ethnic, semetic, the exotic, the ginger haired, blond eyed and every hint of difference will be fully represented. Instead of fighting for one minority, everybody will be fighting for everybody minority but against nobody. Catch my drift? To fight against racism, it must be about educating the few for the many. We can fight against discrimination against all its forms; and when we all succeed, you can choose which aspect you stood up for and pat yourself on the back; as long as you don’t forget to turn off the lights when you leave the room.

Meanwhile, the American Ambassador in Sierra Leone is quoted as saying that “there is a possibility for a run-off poll in November’s election”. I am waiting for the opinion polls: as long as it was not conducted by Fox news.

© 2012, Abdulai Mansaray. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.

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