December 23rd 2019

“Racist behaviour is interfering with the game”.

That was the public address announcement at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium yesterday after César Azpilicueta informed match referee  Anthony Taylor that Antonio Rudiger had been racially abused during the game yesterday between Spurs and Chelsea.

Cue the usual outrage.

This morning, the PFA have called for an enquiry.

Enquiries are all very well, but what do they actually do? Surely what we need is action.

What we don’t need, is Sky Sports diluting the impassioned words of Gary Neville after the game yesterday. To paraphrase – the full video is online – Neville said it was about time we in the UK stopped blaming other countries (citing the recent appalling instances of racism in Bulgaria) and saying it was “their” problem.

Further he elaborated he was ashamed that he’d never taken a stand as a player in games he’d been in, and called on players to be given powers to walk off the pitch.

Then, contrary to the other guests on the show, he put forward his opinion that the behaviour of politicians and the media was complicit in the societal problem of racism.

At the end of the speech, and surely everyone that saw it couldn’t doubt the sincerity, or the passion with which it was delivered, the Sky Presenter Dave Jones said: “”I am compelled to say that those are the opinions of Gary Neville and not Sky Sports. That is my duty,”

We all know that happened because a producer was in Jones’ ear. Neville, though, was clearly angry: “don’t you agree with it, Dave?” he bristled.

“Whether I do or I don’t is irrelevant. I’m here to try and hold a balanced debate,” was the reply.

As the Independent reports it this morning: “Neville fumed at the response, responding that his argument was balanced given that it was based on the factual evidence of the racist language that has been used by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, whose comments of “piccaninnies” and “letter boxes” in the past have gone unpunished, while Labour’s recent electoral campaign was plagued by constant allegations of anti-Semitism.”

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of Jones – who was doing his job – but we do need to look at the lack of clarity in the responses, both of Sky Sports and Tottenham Hotspur.

Both of them, I am sure, condemn racism of any sort, from anywhere. But neither of them have 100% said so. In the protocol with Spurs followed, the word “interfering”. Why not “ruining”? Why not a stronger statement of condemnation of their own supporters and whilst Sky released a statement of their own, these words:  “Sky Sports is against racism of all forms in any walk of life and will continue to give a platform to eradicating this vile behaviour from society,” stop short of apologising for trying to inject “balance” into an argument that didn’t need balance. It needed a stance.

The very same day as this happened, rapper Stormzy was asked if the UK was a racist country. “Yes, 100%” he replied. That was misinterpreted by some on social media that choose to misinterpret these things for their own agendas, as him saying that 100% of the UK was racist. He did not. And how can you argue that the UK isn’t racist given what happened later on – even more so after the reaction to it?

At Leisure Leagues we have players everywhere in the world, from all kinds of ethnicities and backgrounds. Each one of these players is treated the same.  It is basic human decency and a basic human right.

It is quite simple: we will not tolerate racism. It is that easy.

That should be the case for the football authorities around the world. Sadly, for many – and lest we forget while we are criticising our own Governing Bodies and broadcasters for a lack of clear response, the Italian FA  chose to highlight their own anti-racism campaign by bizarrely using monkeys on the poster – they are trying to blur the lines.

There should be no grey areas. It is simply a matter of right and wrong. However much money is involved shouldn’t come into it.


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