Monday, 23 February 2015

Kicking Prejudice Off the Pitch.

Last week, we saw the beautiful game tarnished by a shameful racist incident on the busy Paris metro at Richelieu-Drouot station as visiting Chlesea football fans made their way to see their team play Paris Saint-Germain. In a video taken by a British expat, the Chelsea fans are seen aggressively harassing a black passenger, whilst chanting “we're racist and that's the way we like it.”

People around the world have been disgusted by the video; the disgraceful behaviour of these bigots rubbed salt in the wounds of Parisians who have lived precariously in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo incident. Issues of prejudice and intolerance have been at the forefront of national consciousness not only in France but in all of Europe, with reports of racist, anti-Semitic and Islamaphobic incidents surfacing on a daily basis since the attack. 

Football is no stranger to accusations of institutionalised racism - not only in the UK but across the continent; in Scotland we are familiar with the sectarian violence that comes with Old Firm matches between Rangers and Celtic, while in Poland the Euro 2012 was thematized by incidents of violence, racist hooliganism, the presence of Nazi flags and monkey chants directed towards black players. 

It would be wrong to direct all criticism  with regards to intolerant attitudes to football fans; we can clearly observe patterns of discrimination higher up the chain of power, within the institution of the sport itself. Indeed, there have been repeated suggestions that football is institutionally racist. These accusations criticise a tangible structural inequality in the game, characterised by a lack of representation of people of colour at the top.

In September 2014 Chief Executive of the Premier Football Association (PFA) Gordon Taylor said that the sport shows a "hidden resistance" preventing black managers getting jobs." He aptly observed, "you see so many black players on the pitch, yet we have two black managers out of 92” - referring to  Chris Powell at Huddersfield and Carlisle's Keith Curle, the only black managers. Two years prior to Taylor's comments in 2012, the PFA  had released a six point action plan to reduce inequality in the sport. 

The Association called for: Speeding up the process of dealing with reported racist abuse with close monitoring of any incidents, stiffer penalties for racist abuse and to include an equality awareness programme for culprits and clubs involved, monitoring and reporting of issues of ethnic minority representation and an increased focus on other equality issues such as gender, sexual orientation, disability, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Asians in football.  Despite these best efforts at increasing awareness of prejudice and tackling them at the level of administration and legislation within the game, inequality remains a permanent fixture on the pitch and in the boardroom as these recommendations have been consistently ignored. 

The PFA had also called for an English version of “the Rooney Rule,” an affirmative action policy introduced by America's National football League (NFL) in 2003 whereby teams are obliged to interview interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs. Discussions took place last year about introducing an equivalent rule in English football called the Coaching Fair Play scheme, which has still not been introduced. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore deems it "unnecessary" and instead introduced the Premier League's Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme, which reserves three places for black and ethnic minority coaches.

It seems that despite major associations recognising the institutional problem of prejudice and discrimination within the sport,
It does not help when the most influential figures in the game refuse to acknowledge the issue at hand. Infamously, Chelsea's own manager Jose Mourinho claimed, in response to calls for the introduction of the Rooney Rule, that "there is no racism in football.” Clearly, the fans of his team disagree with that. 

As ever, hope remains with organisations like Show Racism the Red Card, an organisation which involves influential football players in their anti-racism educational programme, and Kick It Out, a group which lobbies and works with the football authorities, professional clubs, players, fans and communities to tackle all forms of discrimination.  However, commenting on the Paris Metro incident, Kick It Out chairman Lord Ousley stated that "We know that prejudice is on the increase and that in itself leads to hateful attitudes and this sort of conduct.”  Given that  the sport has proven itself to been incapable of dealing with or taking the issue of racism seriously internally, Gordon Taylor's suggestion that "We need to look to government with regard to greater equality in football at managers and coaches level and also with regard to youth development level” seems more than reasonable. 

The victim of the Paris incident, a French-Mauritian known as Souleyman S spoke about why he did not immediately report his his attackers, asking "What could I tell my children? That daddy was shoved around on the Metro because he is black?”  

- Hailey Maxwell