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THE sooner we stop pretending we are surprised by racism in football the sooner we can actually try to stamp it out of the game.
The problem, however, is that it is so prevalent in society that football is fighting a losing battle.
The end of 2017 saw two high-profile black footballers either speak about or suffer racism.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling was physically and verbally abused outside the training ground and, al though newspapers picked up the story and condemned the attack, some of them are part of the problem.
Since Sterling’s rise through the Queens Park Rangers academy, through the Liverpool first team and now City’s, there has been a constant stream of articles from journalists and newspapers portraying him as a lazy, overpaid and overrated footballer.
From attacking him for buying his mother a house to criticising him for saying he felt tired during the season, the media has painted Sterling as someone undeserving of his fame and fortune.
These are points I have raised here previously, but I just found it laughable that, after all that, these same publications were trying to be on his side.
They are part of the problem and need to take a long hard look at themselves over how they portray certain players.
Former Chelsea star Didier Drogba was constantly described as a beast or a monster. Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku is also spoken about using those words when he is playing.
While I’m sure the people saying them mean it in glowing terms, beasts and monsters are not nice descriptive nouns.
They are constantly used to describe black footballers. When Kurt Zouma was breaking through at Chelsea, he was “a beast” in the air. Fast forward a few years and Leicester’s Harry Maguire is “dominant” in the air.
Both are physically gifted players, but you can’t help but notice how they are described to the public.
I am guilty of saying some black players look like “tanks” but I am trying to stop associating them with negative terms.
It may seem like political correctness gone mad but subconsciously it makes a difference. When Sterling opened up and said he was tired while on England duty, the backlash was immense.
Ignoring the fact that fans, managers and journalists have called for a winter break for well over a decade to stop players from feeling tired, Sterling bore the brunt for speaking his mind.
However, when Harry Kane starts the season in poor form because he played in an international tournament over the summer and hasn’t had a proper rest in 18 months, he is backed and people excuse his performances.
This isn’t an attack on Kane, Maguire or anyone else mentioned in this column. I just find it fascinating how society describes certain footballers.
So while Sterling suffered a racist attack, Liverpool youngster Rhian Brewster opened up to the Guardian about the racist abuse he has received on the pitch since the age of 12.
It’s a brilliant interview and the only thing I could take away from it is how inept Fifa and Uefa are at dealing with racism. That wasn’t breaking news, more a reminder of how little they care.
Young players are abused and see the perpetrators barely getting a slap on the wrist. The constant “We don’t have enough evidence to do anything” is a feeble excuse.
Stadiums in Britain are able to single out racist fans. Yet across Europe, whole sections of crowds make monkey noises and the powers that be close the stadium for one game and then let them back in.
Stadium bans have to be the bare minimum for fans. As for players, bans should start at a year minimum. That doesn’t sound harsh and to me it isn’t.
Fifa are happy to dish out a similar punishment for failed drug tests or match-fixing but not for racism.
They will promote their Say No to Racism campaign before Europa League and Champions League matches, but actions speak louder than words.
Brewster feels the same after Liverpool had filed two complaints of racist abuse to Uefa against Spartak Moscow. These complaints were lodged in the space of 10 weeks but, as of writing, there has been no punishment.
“I didn’t even want to put in a complaint,” Brewster told the Guardian. “‘Nothing’s going to happen,’ that was my attitude. I was walking down the tunnel after the match and I was just swearing. ‘Fuck the system, it’s not going to do anything,’ stuff like that. Obviously you have to do it, [make a complaint] but, if something is ever done about it, that’s another story.”
The article adds that “he cannot help wonder whether Uefa is ‘only taking it seriously because of the way I reacted. If I’d have knocked him out, I would have been banned, 100 per cent. Nothing has happened to him yet and nothing might happen. I hope something happens and he gets banned, but I don’t know if anything will’.”
And he’s right. And it’s messed up that, at 17, Brewster knows that nothing will be done against those that racially abuse him.
This is an unwanted throwback to the dark ages of football, where football as a whole ignored racism and black players didn’t bother reporting it as it never went anywhere.
While Brewster has been racially abused against Russian club youth teams, Russia will be hosting the World Cup in a few months and they will tell there is no racism problem. It has happened against Spanish sides as well, another European country that ignores a racist fan problem.
“Everyone stands behind the anti-racism banners,” Brewster says in the interview. “You have the adverts for Champions League games saying: ‘No to racism’ in all the different languages. Idols of the game take part, but it still happens.
“Before the last Spartak game I was talking to [Liverpool teammate] Ben Woodburn and I said to him: ‘This doesn’t mean anything, I don’t know why I’m standing behind this banner anyway.’ We started laughing. It was a case of: ‘Just stand behind it, get your picture done and walk away.’ We did it against Sevilla and it still happened, we did it against Spartak away and we did it in the Euros. I’m thinking to myself: ‘Well, I’m standing behind a banner, but does it really stop them from saying it?’ To be honest, I don’t think there is any point. It needs more severe punishments.”
These slogans and T-Shirts that are worn before a few games a season are all good, but they aren’t making a significant change.
Go on any social media platform and have a look at the vile language aimed at black footballers.
Open up a newspaper or go on their website and carefully examine the words used to describe them. Read the nonsense articles about how they spend their money or how they should stop dying their hair red or blue and focus on the game.
George Best was idolised for his drugs, sex and money lifestyle and still is, yet Sterling can’t buy a sausage roll in Greggs without being called cheap.
Maybe 2018 will be the start of something positive. Maybe.
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