If this is all wrong Rio, tell us what you think we should do
21:45 GMT, 21 October 2012
Rio Ferdinand is right. We're not going to T-shirt racism in football out of existence. Then again, we’re not going to tweet it into oblivion, either. Education, discussion, action. We evolve from there.
Ferdinand, and other black players, may find the white cotton gesture politics of the anti-racism pressure groups facile, but so is trying to make a complex, nuanced argument in a medium of no more than 140 characters.
Some of us preferred the old days, when Ferdinand conveyed his thoughts with a statement more substantial and eloquent than the odd succinct hashtag.
In the red: Rio Ferdinand did not wear the Kick It Out t-shirt before Manchester United played Stoke
We're in: Anderson and Wayne Rooney (right) wore the anti-racism t-shirts during the warm-up
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Sir Alex Ferguson may now wish he had
spoken at length with Ferdinand before giving his guarantee that every
Manchester United player would mark Kick It Out’s day of awareness in
the appropriate apparel, but the requirement to talk does not just exist
within the confines of the Carrington training complex.
The Football Association, the
Professional Footballers’ Association, the Kick It Out campaign, the
Premier League and Football League, all have a pressing need to consult
with the disaffected black players and ask: what exactly do you want
For while most would support
Ferdinand’s right not to rally beneath a standard in which he does not
believe, his motivation for losing faith in some very decent people is
rather less clear.
Does Ferdinand truly think racism is not taken seriously in this country That the efforts of the FA are insincere What more does he feel anti-racism campaigners could do
These are questions that need
answers, that demand detail, precise and insightful; a perspective with
a little more insight than the ill-considered retweet with which he
attacked Ashley Cole.
If Kick It Out are failing black footballers, so are many of the highest profile rebels by not framing specific grievances.
The presumption is that black players
were protesting about Kick It Out’s failure to address the lenient
treatment of race-related offences: John Terry’s four-match ban,
Chelsea’s endorsement of him as captain, UEFA’s weakness when
confronting racism in Serbia, the punishment and traducing of victim
If so, say it. Say what should have
happened. Offer a way forward. Public discourse over race has rarely
felt less cerebral. It has descended to the levels of pulp fiction. A
never-ending soap opera of snubbed handshakes, costume changes and
soundbites, offering few solutions and creating ever greater divisions.
Domestically at least, the complexities are so much richer than these crude gestures allow.
Take the Terry case, from the point
of view of the FA. They as good as tore up their rulebook to bring a
charge against the former England captain, once he had been found not
guilty at Westminster Magistrates Court.
It would have been very easy, at that
moment, to consider the case closed. Instead, the FA pressed ahead, and
lost Terry’s valuable services as an England player as a result.
Following suit: Rio's brother, the QPR defender, Anton Ferdinand also warmed up without the shirt
The four-game ban, while considered paltry by some, was the result of a three-man commission taking into account the individual circumstances around his offence.
It could be argued that race-related transgressions should carry a statutory 10-match ban, and maybe they will in future, but the hearing worked with the boundaries as they are now. The alternative is to surrender to lynch mob justice, bending to a media or public outcry. We have to be above that, no matter the appeal of easy populism.
Then there is the timing — Terry’s confrontation with Anton Ferdinand has passed its first birthday now — and the widely held view that the case dragged on too long and the FA should have pre-empted the trial by the Chief Magistrate. Luther Blissett said as much only last week.
Yet, once the police had asked the FA to suspend their investigation to let events in court take precedence, what were they supposed to do
What if the FA had pressed ahead and found Terry guilty and his Westminster trial had subsequently been deemed prejudiced The FA would have been blamed and vilified. They had to comply with the police request.
Of course, many aspects of Terry’s case were unsatisfactory, but they certainly do not show an authority who are unconcerned with race issues. Quite the opposite.
When placing any individual indictment under the microscope there will always be flaws. Not every criminal trial concludes in a way that chimes with the public mood, either, but that does not mean the justice system is unconcerned with right and wrong.
You may wish for sterner retribution for miscreants, but that does not make your more liberal local magistrate uncaring or complacent.
Similarly, the FA commission did not ban Terry for four matches because they thought racism inconsequential; they reached what they considered to be a fair punishment in the circumstances. You are entitled to disagree; but there is no conspiracy.
Not on: Manchester City defender Joleon Lescott (centre) had no intention of wearing the t-shirt
Standing his ground: Jason Roberts did not wear the yellow t-shirt at Anfield
Red in black: Luis Suarez
We don’t care about racism Consider
Terry’s true punishment. Not four matches, but a stigma that will remain
throughout his life. Without substantial rehabilitation, it will be
very hard for him to remain in football beyond his playing career and
almost impossible for him to pursue work in the media.
Could Terry be offered the job Gary
Neville has for England, or the position Alan Shearer occupies at the
BBC Not without the same outcry that has accompanied Chelsea’s
decision to retain him as captain.
There would be a chorus of
disapproval: reaction from Kick It Out, furious back page controversy,
negative commentary and analysis, a lightning vox pop of prominent black
players. It would be a circus.
Just as it is for Luis Suarez,
ignominy is Terry’s real sentence, and it is for all time, not four
measly matches. So, yes, we’re damn serious about racism in this
On October 6, Marvin Sordell of Bolton
Wanderers said on Twitter that he, and several team-mates, had been
racially abused by Millwall fans at The Den.
To date, there has been no public
confirmation of this: from Bolton players, Millwall players, Bolton
officials, Millwall officials, police or stewards.
Nothing even from the other players
Sordell named: Lee Chung-yong, Darren Pratley and Benik Afobe. But there
is an FA investigation.
Not to doubt Sordell’s words, but this
is at present a single source story. The Leveson Inquiry would not
approve; nor would any self-respecting GCSE history teacher. Yet the FA
are investigating. As they should: because allegations of racism have
to be taken seriously, and are.
Indeed, the problem English football
seems to have is that, in its efforts to do racism justice, it has
become fragmented in how best to act.
It is the Judean People’s Front,
arguing with the People’s Front of Judea. T-shirts: on or off Hand:
outstretched or by side Four games or eight Punishment or
Jason Roberts of Reading thinks Kick
It Out are weak and should be an angry, righteous force agitating for
change; former England goalkeeper David James believes Kick It Out are
redundant busy-bodies and simply keeping themselves in employment by
unnecessarily amplifying every dispute.
Last week, it was said that Kick It
Out were under pressure to exclude Terry from Saturday’s T-shirt parade,
if he was available to play for Chelsea against Tottenham. Then Terry
accepted his four-match ban and missed the game.
Immediately, this was reinterpreted as
a snub to an organisation who were, possibly, going to snub him anyway.
The snubbee was suddenly the snubber.
So what was it to be Reject Terry in
protest, include him as a way of showing his contrition, or the Holy
Grail — wait for him to ask to be included, in order to reject him in a
blaze of publicity. Whatever was intended, is this really the best we
When we see what happened to England’s
black players in Serbia, is there not a higher ground, a finer way of
addressing racism than with glorified media stunts
Speaking up: Marvin Sordell was targeted online after claiming to have been racially abused by Millwall fans
The most worrying aspect of the
T-shirt protest is that the demand seems to be simply for more
punishment, punishment, punishment, rather than punishment followed by
education and rehabilitation as an example to society.
We presume that Ferdinand is outraged
because Terry was not banned for longer, not because current FA
sentences do not include a process whereby a player can be allowed to
admit his mistake, have what was so wrong explained to him — by his
victim or a proxy — and in time then return to spread the message,
having learned an important lesson.
Punishment followed by banishment is
how we deal with race issues, which is why each malefactor denies his
crime to the bitter end.
This also explains the strange role
reversal in which the offender is portrayed as the real victim, because
the odds are considered to be stacked against him.
Ultimately, instead of bringing the communities together, too much is contentious.
Put it this way: after a year of focus
on race issues are we further advanced If not, then the system is
wrong and the punishment- banishment axis alone is not working.
Even Ferdinand’s collision with
Ferguson has the nuances of the race debate at its heart. Ferguson said
on Friday that his players would support the Kick It Out movement. He no
doubt feels supportive of its good intentions, having endured the
fall-out of the Suarez-Patrice Evra affair.
Maybe he had heard rumours of
Ferdinand’s planned protest and felt by making that statement publicly,
he would box his player into a corner, where he would have no option
but to go along with his manager’s wishes. It was a presumptuous
announcement without consultation, but nobody would dispute Ferguson’s
sincerity of purpose.
In also saying he would back any of
his players who left the field due to racist abuse, he has gone further
than many managers, and certainly further than UEFA president Michel
Platini. Ferguson and Ferdinand are on the same route, but different
That this will quite possibly play out
as the beginning of the end for Ferdinand at Old Trafford would make
him another casualty of a toxic episode for English football.
‘He’ll be dealt with,’ warned
Ferguson, darkly, which was an unfortunate choice of words to say the
least. Why should Ferdinand be dealt with for sticking to his
Officials stance: Referee Mike Jones and his assistants warm up wearing the anti-racism t-shirts at Swansea
Did Ferguson not once admire independence of thought as a worker in Glasgow’s shipyards
Whether one agrees with Ferdinand’s stance, or finds it misguided, he is entitled to freedom of expression.
Ferguson may feel the protest a
distraction — and he certainly won’t have been happy that the second
Stoke City goal came straight through the heart of his defence on
Saturday — but surely he should be proud of the fact that his players
are leaders, not followers, in football’s community
Joleon Lescott, now of Manchester
City, has not endorsed Kick It Out in five seasons. He has his reasons
and no manager is entitled to instruct him otherwise.
So Ferguson clearly under- estimated
Ferdinand’s depth of feeling, and in doing so ended up embarrassed when
the player publicly disobeyed him.
Now the issue is one of control. Ferguson does not tolerate dissent, and those who go against him rarely last long at United.
The pair are believed to have talked
yesterday and, short-term at least, their working relationship is
maintained. Ferdinand’s contract is up this summer, however, and at 34
he could be in his final season at the club.
He would have known the potential
ramifications when he made the decision to defy Ferguson and it shows
how deeply he cares. Is it too much to ask, then, that he now
articulates those views, privately or publicly, to the people who
matter, that he discusses the way forward, that he assumes the
responsibility of a man in his influential position
If the FA are to stand accused of not
taking racism seriously, what of those who reduce the subject to a
T-shirt, a handshake, a slogan or a pithy tweet