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Jason Roberts has got it wrong on his Kick It Out racism campaign

2012 October 21
by Paul Vallely

This is not the kind of thing a white man should say. But Jason Roberts seems to have got it wrong on racism. The black footballer has called for a boycott of this weekend’s anti-racism Kick It Out protest. He feels it has not been vigorous enough in its response to abuse in the game.

He has a point, sort of. Kick it Out cannot impose punishments on clubs, fine players or do anything much more than voice anti-discrimination platitudes, Roberts insists. Several other black players, including the Wales goalkeeper, Jason Brown, agree.

Their indignation has been fuelled by the monkey chants directed against the England Under-21 full-back Danny Rose in Serbia on Tuesday – not to mention the decision of the European football authorities to fine the Italian club Lazio a paltry £32,500 for the racial abuse recently showered on Tottenham’s black players. The Serbs did the same thing to Jason Brown nine years ago and were fined a pathetic £16,000.

It’s easy to blame foreigners but it is inarguable that Serb football clubs shielded suspected war criminals like Ratko Mladic, Radovan Karadzic or the mass murderer Arkan who actually ran one of Belgrade’s football teams. Serb clubs were, and are, neo-Nazi fronts which supplied paramilitary combatants for the ethnic cleansing in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s. They still hold up banners gloating about genocide in Srebrenica.

By contrast it is long years since football yobs hurled bananas at black players on the pitch here. The Liverpool player Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for repeated racist needling last year. The former England captain John Terry has been dragged through courts and disciplinary procedures for an entire year for a racist jibe.

Jason Roberts says that Terry’s apology has come a year too late and that the FA’s four-match ban is too lenient. But Chris Hughton, the only black manager in the Premier League, replies: “Fortunately here in England we have done a lot of good work and have reaped the benefits from it.” David James,  the black goalkeeper, capped 53 times for England, says “the organisations which have done so much good on the terraces” now “have an agenda to keep themselves in existence. I struggle with the racist issue in football because as a player I don’t see it. The game’s changed.”

The truth is that the isolated use of racist words in the heat of the moment – unacceptable as they are – is different from sustained bouts of racist chanting from the stands. It is unfortunate that it has taken a year to bring John Terry to book but that is largely because of an ill-judged decision by the Crown Prosecution Service to jump in where discipline by the FA would have done the job quicker and better.

By contrast European football’s governing body UEFA has shown itself weak and gutless. It fined the Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner £80,000 for exposing his branded underwear at Euro 2012 – five times more than it fined Serbia for outrageous racist abuse against the England player, Nedum Onuoha, in 2007.  After so many repeat offences Serbia needs to be banned not fined. Britain’s black players, and the rest of us, have every right to be angry. But it is the complacent cowards of UEFA and FIFA who should be the target.

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