On The Left Side

It was around about a year ago that FIFA disbanded it’s anti-racism task force, declaring it’s mission completed.

Which was great.

Great that they had finished the work of the likes of Dr Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela in bringing true equality to the world, proven by the fact that in the time that has passed since, there hasn’t been a single whiff of racism in world football.

Apart from the fines handed to Lazio and Juventus last month for racist chanting.

Oh, and there was also that FIFA punishment slapped on Kosovo and Croatia, for the racist insults hurled at the Serbian team during World Cup Qualifying.

Now I think about it there’s also the repeated reports of a deep-seeded culture of racism within Russian football, the very nation where FIFA is holding next year’s World Cup… but apart from that, and the countless other fines, incidents and stories that appear each week, bigoted thinking and behaviour has been completely eradicated from the sport.

I’m sure you picked on the sarcasm there, right? It’s one thing reading about such incidents on the other side of the globe and sagely shaking our heads before going back to our Weetabix, but when it’s on our own English doorstep (or terraces) it really is time to take notice.

Last week’s North London Derby was marred, not by another turgid performance from the Gunners but by an incident outside the ground involving Robbie, the host of Arsenal Fan TV. He was caught up in a group of Spurs fans as he tried to film outside White Hart Lane. The atmosphere got a bit tasty, and racist insults were thrown. Unacceptable.

I’ve been going to football grounds for 20 odd years and I have not once heard such language used in or outside of the ground. Even Robbie himself was a little shocked when he confessed on their YouTube channel: “I haven’t had that at a football ground for years. There is no other football ground that I go to where I got what I got today.”

There are loads of very good reasons to have a go at some of the people on Arsenal Fan TV. The colour of their skin is NOT one of them… and most people know that. I’m not suggesting that racism is rife in football but it would seem that it certainly exists. In the same way that your local boozer might not hold weekly EDL meetings, but there is probably a guy at the bar who begins sentences with “I’m not racist but…” and ends them with “…I’ve just got a great deal on a new white pointy hood.” The sport still contains an undesirable element.

It’s a minority, but it’s a minority that is too big. Maybe with their recent good performance and exciting football Spurs fans think they are back in the 1960s again and so are adopting retro-bigoted views of other nationalities? But I doubt it.

It is of course not just Tottenham fans. It’s a global problem and a problem that in Italy at least, may have just seen a potential turning point.

Ex-Portsmouth player Sully Muntari was the victim of racist insults from the stands as his team, Pescara, took on Cagliari in Serie A. He, rightly, complained to the referee asking why nothing was being done and suggested either an announcement to fans warning of the consequences of their chants or even the game being called off. The referee ignored his ideas and instead booked the midfielder for descent. At this point, Muntari left the field of play which resulted in him receiving a one-game ban. Essentially he was booked for being abused.

Predictably, there was outrage from the world’s media including BBC Pundit Garth Crooks who, in a rare moment of talking sense said:

“I’m calling on players in Italy, black and white, to make it absolutely clear to the federation in Italy that their position is unacceptable, and if the decision is not reversed then they withdraw their services until it is.”

The outrage caused the Italian FA to reconsider, overturn the ban and, in doing so, focus a whole load of attention onto the issue of racism in the Italian game and potentially give other players, in similar situations to Muntari, the ability to take action and not put up with the abuse.

Crooks’ idea of a walkout was an interesting one but why stop there. Why should it be just black players that take action when the idea is to create equality and not separate people by the colour of their skin? If 10,000 Liverpool fans walking out of Anfield on the 77th minute in protest to ticket prices can cause a club to change it’s pricing policy, imagine what impact an entire team refusing to take to the field of play would have. It’s sad but maybe that’s the kind of action that is needed to raise awareness of something that should have been stamped out a long time ago.

If you’re struggling to imagine what it would be like to go to a game and see an entire team not turning up then there’s a simple solution – just head up to the Stadium of Light… it happens there every week.

You can hear more from Jim and his alternative view on the beautiful game in On The Left Side the weekly, satirical football show.

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