RTK Blog: Is Racism alive and well in football?

Steve Doughty of the Daily Mail recently wrote a piece that defies logic. In the wake of the allegations facing Louis Suarez and John Terry, his piece entitled “Football may not be perfect but it has come a long way since the 70’s” He not only condones the racist abuse allegedly dished out by John Terry, he goes on to suggest that the victims should just get on with the game, for in his analysis “…there are worse things to complain about…” He points out that the UEFA campaign to kick out racism leads to “… Every club seems to be promoting a kick racism out of football campaign, beyond the point of boredom…” Really Mr Doughty, it’s boring to reduce the vile slurs directed against fellow professional footballers by their associates? Perhaps as boring the repetitive public campaigns to alert children to the risk of being preyed upon by paedophiles I suppose? The point being, just because the previously overt crime has been driven underground by social pressure, does not mean it is therefore close to becoming extinct. So continual reminders are required to underline our intolerance of the practice.

He apparently sees the lack of racism in crowds today symptom of the rarity of racism in our society. I wonder which stratum of society he frequents as in my opinion racism is alive and well in many East and Western European countries. Just to prove the point further there is also the rather perverse “reverse racism” against white people in some Caribbean or Asian countries. There is undoubtedly less racism upon the terraces compared with the seventies, yet Mr Doughty fails to point out that the main reason for this is the likelihood of the offenders receiving criminal records. Yet his attempt to portray his views as objective fail the test when he finally concedes that  “Football reflects us all as it always did, and these days it’s both racist and not racist at the same time.” Having missed the point with the precision of Adeybayor missing the proverbial barn door, one wanders if he actually believes his own piece of garbage, as to call it journalism would be an insult to his more articulate colleagues.

The intervention of the Metropolitan Police should be interesting as a complaint was received from a member of  the public. Any half decent lip reader will be able to “hear” John Terry mouth words which appear to suggest  “ Clucking Fack Bunt,” and  a Clucking  Knobhead! If you don’t believe me, or have not seen the footage then watch this video here on JT mouthing abuse  and judge for yourself. To suggest that Anton Ferdinand was not racially abused having seen this footage, is in my opinion, as crass as to deny the existence of gravity when an apple falls from a branch. Please note that I am not accusing John Terry of being a racist, merely in my opinion of appearing to having used racist language, and there is a difference. The semantics around John Terry’s defence will I predict be one of “Intention or motivation”.

The sport of Cricket is not one that we associate with racism, but the practice of Sledging was introduced by the Australian Gary Coring in the sixties. He bowled for New South Wales and upon hearing that his wife was having an affair with another cricketer, when this man came to the crease, the bowler began to sing the Percy Sledge number “When a man loves a woman” the result was staggering and the shocked cricketer fell apart. Sledging was born, and it has ranged from the humourous to the downright abusive. There in lies the problem. Sledging in cricket is used to cause mental disintegration according to Ian Chappell, a famous Australian cricketer. But having strenuously denied that sledging represents bad gamesmanship Chappell goes on to  refute that the motivation of sledging is to cause personal abuse. One can see therefore that it is all about what is the intended consequence of using this tactic? Without doubt in my opinion, whether it be abuse in the form of sledging or racial obscenities as possibly used by John Terry, the intended consequence is to undermine the psychological stability of the intended victim. In mentally strong individuals this will be like water off a ducks back, but in extremely weak and vulnerable individuals, as in on-line bullying, the consequences may cause the victim to commit suicide in very extreme cases. What is clear is that in reality, all forms of humour can by this analysis, be found offensive by someone somewhere if their threshold for embarrassment or hurt is exceeded.

Political correctness was intended to establish an environment where moral values were attached to words or phrases or descriptions. The intention for this was clear, it was to protect vulnerable less eloquent individuals who may not even been aware that they were being subjected to demeaning or perjorative labels, as this wiki definition of PC  indicates

Political Correctness is the term applied to language ideas, policies, and behavior seen as seeking to minimize social and institutional offense in occupational, gender, racial, cultural, sexual orientation, certain other religions, beliefs or ideologies, disability, and age-related contexts, and, as purported by the term, doing so to an excessive extent.”

The other argument which apologises for personal abuse in ordinary society is that this is the slang or colloquial “norm” for people in a particular culture or social stratum who readily understand that no real offense is meant by the usage of such language. In fact it is considered by those proponents as more of a weakness if the intended victims did not retaliate in kind or failed to see the funny side of the remarks. Here is where we who enjoy football and support our team fanatically will be judged. Many fans, Arsenal fans included have pet hates which feed the tribal unity that we see as passion and loyalty to the badge. The most commonly well sung chants at Arsenal refer to abusing Tottenham, Adebayor or Ashley Cole.  The recent chants about deaths in Angola were the most despicable aspects of this conduct. But can anyone reading this blog honestly state that they have never in their lives uttered abuse towards someone?

Children do it the playground upon a daily basis, and in it’s most excessive form it becomes bullying. So in one sense the apologists for personal abuse are correct. Sayings like “One man’s meat is another man’s poison“, or “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” underlines just how difficult it is to make a definition black or white.  The solution is rather a diffuse shade of gray taking the analogy further, which obliges us to establish what is generally acceptable within our culture and situation, and having the discipline to operate within those boundaries as a gold standard in terms of politeness, decency and good conduct. This requires the individual to make a personal choice rather than have imposed upon themselves a politically correct solution which sanitises humour and prevents what can be called as” jovial banter“. For without this test most comic humour would be deemed excessively abusive by those parameters, and those finding the jokes funny could be labelled as condoning abuse.

However the football case is quite different at this level and I shall try to explain why.  I am old enough to have suffered foul racist abuse at the hands of The National front, an extremist far right group with racist views in the sixties and seventies. I remembered being regularly chased by white “ skinheads ” wearing braces and Dr Marten boots who wanted to kick my  “stinking Nigger head in” and send me back to Africa, despite the fact that I was working class and born and bred in Wolverhampton. unfortunately one had to combat violence with violence in those bad old days, it was a them or you, a simple matter of survival in physical health terms.  It was Denton “The Bear” who larger than life figure prevented the NF gaining ground at Highbury. If you called Denton “The Bear” a Clucking Fack Bunt, the chances are you would wake up in hospital regretting it later. Whilst this defiance enabled young black people to become safer because of our warlike responses, it had it’s downside for I recall almost being expelled for regularly fighting my white schoolmates who racially abused me. Sadly in these aspects of my past I regret having the need as I did, to indulge in violent acts against my persecutors. But I did this to fight for the right to walk the corridors of my Grammar school without being barged into the wall, or having to listen to equally foul racist jibes. I wanted equality nothing else, which is why I disagree with those members of the black community who seek positive discrimination. I am not looking for favours from white establishments, neither do I believe in political correctness, I will earn respect on merit, anything less which forces people to hold a hypocritical stance devalues the true meaning of society and respect.

Yet if John Terry uses this defence of “local and acceptable banter between mates” and wins his case then the flood gates will have been opened. The other evidence of innocence that will be argued by John Terry’s lawyers will undoubtedly be the absence of any complaint from Anton Ferdinand, and the fact that Terry apologised to him in the dressing room afterwards. Supporters of John Terry would have you believe that they are good mates apparently. So why have all this fuss? The Police intervention occurred following a complaint from a member of the public. They are then required to establish whether an offence under the law on racist crime has been committed. I think that John Terry will escape punishment and this will represent how much high profile figures are given leniency by the authorities. Yet I argue that this would be rank hypocrisy by anyone’s standards. The Metropolitan Police themselves have insisted that the absence of a complaint from women subjected to domestic abuse will not prevent the Police from arresting and prosecuting the offenders. The Police must use the standard set by the anti-racism legislation established in the crime and disorder act 1998 which states

To prove that an offence is racially or religiously aggravated, the prosecution has to prove the “basic” offence followed by racial or religious aggravation, as defined in section 28 Crime and Disorder Act 1998. An offence will be racially or religiously aggravated if:

a) at the time of the offence (or shortly before or after), the offender demonstrates to the victim hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group, or

b) the offence is motivated wholly or partly by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership (or presumed membership) of that group.

The definition of Hostility is the big problem especially when the insults are between apparently “good friends” and no complaint is made to the Police. The CPS states that

“Demonstrating hostility is not defined by the Act. The ordinary dictionary definition of hostile includes simply being “unfriendly”. Proving this limb of the offence requires evidence of words or actions which show hostility toward the victim. However, this hostility may be totally unconnected with the “basic” offence which may have been committed for other, non-racially or religiously motivated reasons. For example, an assault which takes place because of an argument over a parking place, but where the offender then utters racial abuse to the victim of the assault would come within the scope of this part of section 28. To be motivated by hostility may prove more difficult in practice.

In the absence of a clear statement by the accused that his/her actions were motivated by his hostility to his victim based on his race or religious belief, for example, an admission under caution, how can motive be shown? In some cases, background evidence could well be important if relevant to establish motive, for example, evidence of membership of, or association with, a racist group, or evidence of expressed racist views in the past might, depending on the facts, be admissible in evidence.”

So there you have it. John Terry calling Anton Ferdinand a “Clucking Fack Bunt” following an altercation on the field of play COULD fall under the section 28, but in finding this, the prosecutors would have to prove racist motivation on the part of John Terry, who will be able to state that most of his best mates are black. So the only person who can hold John Terry to account will be Anton Ferdinand. If Ferdinand accepts that John Terry’s words are merely the Football equivalent of sledging, then many offensive chants will immediately become quite difficult to prosecute as football fans should be able to argue that they too like John Terry have a right to indulge in football sledging or banter. So the outcome of this case will determine whether or not racism is alive and well in football, despite the kick it out campaign. The stakes from one moment of stupidity by John Terry may allow significant precedents to be set which undermine completely the good work done in football to date. For my part, I hope that John Terry is found guilty as I have no respect for his behaviour in other aspects of his life, and he should not be England Captain and ergo a role model for many young football players. If young people tolerate racism and are led by his example to believe that this is acceptable jovial banter, then the cause of fighting racism in the game will have been set back by three decades. What do you think?

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