Peter Sagar argues that the fight against racism in football and in wider society has been undermined by Sepp Blatter’s comments.
So Sepp Blatter thinks that the best way to deal with racism during a game of football is for players to shake hands at the end, as if nothing important really happened. This is the kind of complacent way of dealing with racism in the game which characterised it 30 years ago, when black players in England were routinely abused and before organsiations such as Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out were formed. It is also sending a message to racist players and fans alike that racism is not a major offence in the game and nothing to be worried about.
It is ironic that this pronouncement from Blatter should come in a week when the case of the dreadful racist murder of Stephen Lawrence has been reopened at the Old Bailey, surely a timely reminder of exactly why racism should be taken so seriously. And that includes a sly remark during a game, especially when it comes from a well-known professional player. As has been well documented footballers are role models for many young people who copy their goal celebrations and are also liable to copy their racism.
If racism is tolerated in football, then it can make it easier for people to tolerate it in society. Conversely if it is not tolerated in football then it can be easy for it to become unacceptable in society at large. When the international head of football, Sepp Blatter refuses to take the issue of racism seriously he is sending out a message that it is also acceptable in society at large.
Sadly, whatever measures Blatter takes or whatever he says, then there will always be hard-core racists. I remember standing at St James’ Park in the 1970’s and 1980’s amongst other fans who clearly thought that it was amusing to make racist chants and sing racist songs. St James’ Park was not alone in this of course and it was widespread across the country. The point is that many of these were probably not hard core racists; wrongly they thought what they were doing was clever and funny. It is this level of racism which Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out have worked so hard to challenge and eradicate. It also is this level of racism which is encouraged by the complacency of Sepp Blatter.
It is very hard to change the views of real hard-core racists. Racism is sadly part of their very being and as such it requires a total change of character for it to be eradicated. It can happen and happily does on occasions, but it requires a lot of work and there are no guarantees. What can be done however is that hard core racism can be isolated and made to appear foolish and strange. The casual racist, the kind that made up a lot of those found in football in the dark days of the 1970’s and 1980’s, can be made to reflect on what they are doing and realise that they are wrong and change. In this way racism can be limited in both football and wider society.
This can only happen if the same level of vigilance towards racist singing and chanting which has seen it largely wiped out in major football stadia in England is maintained. By making such a complacent remark, Blatter is potentially opening the way for the casual racism to return which in turn will help to legitimise the views of hard-core racists, so putting the Stephen Lawrence’s of the future in more danger. Blatter is out of touch with the realities of many people’s lives and his views reflect an earlier more complacent era. Perhaps he is now out of time as well and perhaps he should go.
Peter Sagar contributes to the popular Newcastle United fanzine True Faith, writing its regular Coalition of Resistance anti-cuts page. He has started a petition calling for FIFA sponsors to withdraw their sponsorship until Blatter resigns. Please sign Peter’s petition right now.