Football: Too lax for too long on racism

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Written by Remi Joseph-Salisbury

Footage emerged this week showing a group of Chelsea supporters preventing a black man from boarding the metro in Paris. The witty supporters left no doubt of their motivations as they sang ‘we’re racist, we’re racist and that’s the way we like it’.

The fans have received widespread condemnation from the football world, including scathing statements from both Chelsea FC and from, the anti-racism in football organisation, Kick it Out. The reaction of Chelsea’s first black player, Paul Canoville, describing himself as disgusted and ashamed, was particularly poignant. We must also wonder what current black players in the team make of the behaviour of these fans.

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Ivorian Chelsea player Didier Drogba

Whilst such incidents must be viewed as a problem of society, not just a problem of football, the popularity of the football world is indisputable. The wide-ranging influence of the sport means that football has the potential to be a leading light in the battle for racial equality. Simultaneously however, through incidents such as these, football has the potential to stunt the advancement towards racial equality.

Racism permeates all levels of football, from the institutional racism that sees a dearth of black managers, to instances of overt racial prejudice such as this. That the fans felt comfortable and confident enough to racially abuse and assault a black man in such a public space, speaks volumes to the way white privilege and racism works in football, and society.

For far too long, responses to racism in football have been weak and inadequate. Football clubs, fans, and players need to work to create a culture in which such abhorrent racism is unimaginable. A hard-line stance from UEFA, on all levels of racism, might have helped to create such a culture. Instead we have seen a history of paltry fines and inaction in cases of racism.

As Kick it Out chair – Herman Ouseley – stated, the incident ‘sends out a strong signal to, not only Chelsea, but the whole of football, that you cannot be complacent and think the actions you’re taking are sufficient to deal with the scourge of racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism. We’ve got to do a lot more and not be complacent.’

Although Chelsea have spoken out strongly on the case, one cannot help but think that chickens may have come home to roost here. The club continued to back captain John Terry after a 2011 incident in which he called, opposition player, Anton Ferdinand a ‘f**king black c**t’.

Whilst this is a small minority of football fans, these incidences must be eradicated and football used as a vehicle for anti-racism, rather than a space where racism is acceptable. This is not football’s problem but a problem of wider society that we may link to the rise of the far-right and UKIP’s anti-immigration rhetoric. What football can do however, is help to eradicate racism, rather than perpetuate it.