Kick It Out

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Why we need to challenge racism in sport.

The chips are down, and football must fight for equality as a right, not a privilege.

“I have nothing against monkeys, because I’m sure a monkey is smarter than a racist.”

– Mario Balotelli

Racism has once against reared its ugly head in our beautiful game. October 1st marked the start of UK Black History Month, yet the beginning of the new season has led to more and more racist incidents surfacing around the footballing world.

Racist abuse on Twitter: Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and Tammy Abraham were among the recent victims of the online hatred following penalty misses. It goes without saying that the entire sporting world was, and is, disappointed with the events and is ardent in their pursuit of justice regarding the issue.

But where does the blame lay? At whom do we point our judicial finger? Many blame Twitter and many more who blame social media as a whole. But how much control can these companies have without placing shackling restrictions that oppose the very principles of social media?

Following the malicious attacks upon Rashford and Pogba, Manchester United star signing Harry Maguire, said, “Every (social media) account that is opened should be verified by a passport/driving licence.” And that we need to “Stop these pathetic trolls making numerous accounts to abuse people.”

When I first read this, I agreed. It is refreshing to see someone with a platform that can be used for good being proactive in their influence – this is a much more effective use of the power than the usual cliches of ‘this must be stopped’ and ‘this cannot be tolerated’.

But does this suggestion not bring forth another issue that has been every present in recent months? Data security. If those details are provided, then there is always a risk that it could be breached and fall into the wrong hands. However, we must commend Maguire on actually caring enough to make a useful suggestion. We desperately need more of this!

It seems clear to me that we cannot just blame Twitter and social media. Racism is occurring in person as well. Recently, Inter Milan striker, Romeu Lukaku was subjected to monkey chants within the stadium. The fan group have since said that they were not meant in a racially offensive way and he just needs to understand the intent behind them…no, I think not. It’s racist. But it shows that, as we all know, racism is cultivated from society. Social media and football are not to blame for racism, yet they ought to regain control and ensure that the offenders are discouraged and punished.

The racial divide within the game is not just limited to the players. Following the sacking of Chris Powell as manager of Southend, Chris Houghton at Brighton and Sol Campbell leaving Macclesfield, there are only three BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) managers in English football: Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Keith Curle (Northampton), Dino Maamria (Stevenage) – at the time of writing.

This is a curious and worrying statistic. A significant proportion of the country and of the football players in the English leagues are BAME, yet why does this not translate to managerial and upper executive roles? Is there a lack of opportunity? Is there an implicit, or even explicit, racial bias within the selection process?

There has always been a minimal influx of BAME football managers, but with the recent complaints from Sol Campbell, the issue has gained more attention. There are few English footballers in recent years who have had careers as distinguished as Campbell’s.

Campbell has previously blamed his lack of England caps on racial bias. For me, from an outside perspective, I’m sceptical. I think Campbell’s issue for England was that he had competition from two of the greatest centre backs that the Premier League has ever seen: John Terry and Rio Ferdinand.

However, Campbell’s annoyance at his lack of managerial opportunities certainly seems to be warranted. If we look at other English legends – Gary Neville, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard – they have all been given high profile jobs despite being managerial novices (at Valencia, Chelsea and Rangers respectively). Even ex-English footballers with a lesser reputation than Campbell (Johnathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer) have been given relatively high-profile jobs within the English game (at Middlesbrough and Charlton).

Curiouser and curiouser. Sol Campbell is a well-spoken, accomplished and intelligent Premier League great. So why then could he only manage to get a job at a struggling Macclesfield team with whom he had to perform a miracle to keep in the league? And why then, since leaving, has he not been given an opportunity at a bigger club, following his immense achievement, given the circumstances, at Macclesfield?

It’s clear that there is an issue. Less clear, however, is how to address it. Racism has long since been an issue in football. John Barnes has often been an influential voice regarding this. But, as Barnes often says, this is not just a football issue. Football is a vessel in which all of society’s positives and negatives are displayed. We must look at the issue at a societal level.

Is it football’s job? Or the media’s job? No. I don’t believe it’s their job, per se. But they have the power to make a change or at least contribute to the change. They are not to blame, society is, but football must look to its laurels, for it can no longer rest upon them. Let’s use the power and platform of football. Let’s kick it out.

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