Many within British football claim the problem of racism has gone. Within European football virulent racism is still displayed in stadiums. Before the European football championships in Poland and Ukraine, the BBC aired “Stadiums of Hate” a Panorama documentary, featuring Polish fans giving Nazi salutes and a group of Asian fans getting attacked at a match in the Ukraine. “We are not like that” is the strong message the programme gave out.
In the 70s and 80s racist abuse from supporters was common place and the far right had a strong foothold on the terraces in the UK. Paul Elliot (the first black captain of Chelsea): “When I started my career at Charlton Athletic, there was a very strong National Front presence at stadiums all over the country...There was monkey chanting, banana throwing and other abuse”.
Kick it Out, the anti-racist campaign set up in 1993, aimed to tackle racism and remove it from British football. It works with various charities and with clubs on policy to try and increase inclusiveness within football. Kick it Out has been seen as a success by the football authorities; racist chanting and abuse from the terraces has declined sharply since the campaign started and more black footballers are playing for football teams.
But such things cannot be taken as proof that racism in longer as issue within the sport, as the FA would have you believe. In a recent BBC3 documentary Clarke Carlisle (chairman of the Professional Footballers Assocation) spoke to many ex-professionals who had experienced racist abuse. Tottenham and England player Jermaine Jenas said he had been regularly racially abused by supporters during his career. The documentary also showed racist chanting of supporters at football matches, including anti-Semitic abuse aimed at Tottenham Hotspur.
Ex-footballers such as Sol Campbell have also spoken to the media giving accounts of abuse and racial stereotyping that they have suffered, not only from fans, but their own clubs and managers.
During the 2011/12 season the issue of racism became a central issue in the Football Association (FA) and more broadly within the sport. Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches after racially abusing Patrice Evra, John Terry (England captain at the time) was accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand on the pitch and Oldham player Tom Adeyemi was abused by Liverpool supporters during a match. These high profile incidents were not handled well by either their clubs or the FA.
In the aftermath of the Suarez/Evra incident, Liverpool responded by defending Suarez uncritically, and instructing the players to wear pro-Suarez T-shirts whilst warming up for the next game.
Chelsea similarly backed Terry as did the England manger that refused to take the captaincy away from Terry, The FA eventually sacked Terry as captain, but he was permitted to play at the recent Euro championships for England, just not as captain.
The FA’s and individual clubs' responses to these racist incidents hardly suggests that they are determined to remove racism from football. The Professional Players Association (PFA) called for racism to be classed as gross misconduct and thus become a sackable offence, however the decision whether to terminate a player’s contract will be solely with the player's club. Judging by the reactions from Liverpool and Chelsea, that would not have happened nor will happen in the future as football club owners would rather keep hold of their prize assets (Suarez cost Liverpool £23 million). Getting in the highest possible revenue is of prime importance.
When you dig a bit deeper the commitment from the FA to rid racism from the game begins to look non-existent, The Kick it Out campaign is funded by both the FA and football clubs. Its annual budget of £500,000 is dwarfed in comparison to the £3.1 billion football clubs were given under the last deal done with TV stations. Kick it Out only employs three full-time and three part-time staff.
The underlying lack of understanding of the issues involved has been staggering and explains a lot. The President of the world football's ruling body FIFA, Sep Blatter stated that racism was not a problem in football, “Maybe one of the players has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but the one who is affected by that, he should say that ‘this is a game, we are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands'.”
The ruling elites within football seem unwilling and unable to tackle racism. Racism must be tackled by supporters refusing to tolerate racist abuse towards players and other supporters, and the PFA taking a far more active role in fighting for equality within football, through getting more black players involved in the union, and engaging with supporters to try and make it clear that racism within football is not acceptable and will not be tolerated at any level.