It's a good thing that racism is being discussed prominently in the public discourse. And it doesn't surprise me that the root of the discussion is from football. Football, and sport in general, provides a unique microcosm of societies and communities. Society can often progress from something that happens in football way more than it can from something that goes into the statute books.
Sadly, the discussion has started because of recent events that have suggested a resurgence of racism in the game. The Luis Suarez and John Terry affairs have been written about to death so I won't go into them. What's concerned people more recently has been the BBC and Sky Sports films uncovering racism in Ukraine and Poland - the countries hosting Euro 2012.
I saw the films and was, naturally, disturbed. Wherever that sort of stuff takes place, and whatever the scale of it, it is a problem that needs dealing with. The chants were ugly. The painted Swastikas were chilling. And the scenes of racist thugs organising violence were worrying. It is no wonder that, having seen the programs, people including the family of England starlet Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain have decided not to travel to the tournament. And I, of course, respect their decision.
But an interview with Andrei Shevchenko, Ukraine's modern football God, made me feel a bit sorry for the regular, law-abiding people in these countries who undoubtedly form the majority. Shevchenko seemed bemused about the suggestion that his country was inherently racist. "We are friendly people," he said. My little knowledge of people from Poland and Ukraine suggests the same. Having met a decent handful of people from that part of the world through University and work, my impression was always of friendly, curious and quite quirky societies.
So when I then saw Sol Campbell proclaiming that people will be coming back in coffins, part of me thought this had gone too far. It is absolutely a good thing to highlight racism. Racism needs to be combated. Always. But it seems as though the British media has turned to all out scaremongering. Not only this, but there is a whiff of hypocrisy and/or artistic licence in the air.
English football fans joined in collective indignation when their country's bid for the 2018 World Cup was defeated by Russia. I was also gutted as a Welshman who would have reveled in attending World Cup games for the first and maybe last time in my life.
If England had won the bid though, how would we feel in Britain if a foreign broadcaster decided to make a film informing their people about British society? Great, probably. They'd travel through the modernising cultural hub of Manchester, showing off two world class stadiums. They'd then cross the Pennines to speak to the football-mad Geordies who would be buzzing at the prospect of the arrival of the World Cup. Then they'd move south, taking in multicultural Birmingham to demonstrate Britain's ability to integrate people from across the world. And, of course, yet more top stadia. And then, to London. Where they'd find one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world where everyone feels free - people of all genders, races, sexualities. They'd find a bewildering mass of history and culture, the oldest underground transport network in the world, the "Mother of Parliaments" and, yes, more world class stadia.
Or would they?
Instead, maybe they'd go to an English Defence League march. Where dozens of racists chant horrific slogans. Where people use the St. George's cross as if it represents their beliefs and not those of the tolerant, inclusive majority. Then maybe they'd go to a football ground. Maybe Spurs would be playing away at a club where a group of fans think it clever to chant anti-Semitic songs and make sick, twisted noises that evoke the horrors of the Holocaust. Or maybe it would be a Brighton away match. Where the home fans assume all of the Seagulls' fans are gay simply because they are from a tolerant city. And then, in their belief that this in itself is a negative, sing homophobic songs.
Maybe they'd show the former captain and current starting centre-back of the England national team shouting "you fucking black cunt" at a fellow pro on the pitch. And then explain how the brother of the player on the end of the abuse, one of the most decorated, accomplished and able players in English football, was omitted from the national team because, as everyone assumes, the manager didn't want to create tension.
Racism needs to be reported. It needs to be fought. But scaremongering about racism is counter-productive in that fight. And so is making out that it is the problem of other countries.
Finally, for me, the most newsworthy story related to racism in football recently hasn't been a minority of nutters. It has been the President of UEFA, the governing body of European football, saying that players walking off in protest against racism at Euro 2012 will be given a yellow card.
Take a bow, Michel Platini.
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