A week or so ago, Simon Barnes of the Times wrote that in this modern age 7 deadly sins are too much for us to cope with, so that in our various walks of life we have compromised with a single deadly sin so that we can go about our lives and have some fun. Barnes wrote that one deadly sin was, “the concept for our age, and sport, which specialises in simplicities, has embraced it with a passion. Not all sports agree on the same single deadly sin, but it’s the idea that matters”. So, in athletics and cycling, for example, the one deadly sin is drug abuse, in rugby it might be gauging. If you’re a sportsman reading this you know what it is in your sport. In football it has become racism.
In recent times we have had the Terry affair, the Suarez affair, the Serbian affair and now the Clattenburg affair. In fact, lets give them their official media terminology – Terrygate, Suarezgate, Serbiagate and Clattenburggate. The boycott of the Kick it Out t-shirts by leading black players indicates that there is a real and existing problem and the perception is that the problem is being swept under the table by the existence of well-meaning but misguided people who represent an establishment eager to propagate the idea that we, in football and in the UK have beaten this scourge. Clearly, we haven’t.
However, simply knowing there is a problem is not enough to provide a solution. And I’m not sure it helps when the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) is seen to be effectively jumping on the bandwagon to the extent that their leader, Peter Herbert, is calling for the arrest of Spurs fans for chanting Y** Army in what even the club themselves refer to as an anti-racism defence mechanism. Before Mr Herbert replies, I understand his logic but it is the perception that concerns me. On the day of the Clattenburg allegations I was, coincidentally, having coffee with two black friends, one 17 years old and one 32. Both real football fans. So, I asked them what they thought. I was surprised when they both expressed concern about possible backlash generated by the perception that the black community was crying wolf or worse, trying to stoke up a reaction. This aspect of the issue hadn’t even occurred to me but then, I’m not black.
And perhaps that’s the real problem, the one thing that none of us can do is walk a mile in the shoes of someone from another race or gender. I can never know what being black, Asian, Jewish or a woman is like and neither can they know what it is like to be a grey-haired old white bloke. That’s why we must listen to the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Danny Rose and Jason Roberts and at least try to empathise with their anger. Then, if we disagree with their actions or their rationale we can at least do so with some degree of understanding.
Putting aside the moral dimension, football needs to listen to its black constituency and engage more fully with its concerns or it risks severely damaging the product and that’s in nobody’s interest. Perhaps the only truly deadly sin is ignorance, the fuel of prejudice.
Dr Chris Brady is a visiting professor at Salford University’s Business School.
The views of our regular columnists are independent, and as such do not represent those of Leaders in Football.