Football: Task Force get tough over racism

Players and managers face contract clauses, Refs may show red cards, Government can enforce action
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The Independent Online
PLAYERS and managers' contracts could soon contain clauses that enable them to be fined or disciplined for racist remarks or gestures if a recommendation by the Football Task Force is adopted. The Task Force also want referees to show an instant red card for incidents of racist abuse on the pitch.

The measures, Libero can reveal, are just two of a series of proposals by the FTF to the Government, by whom the Force were established, contained in a report that will be published tomorrow at the FA headquarters in Lancaster Gate. It is the first of seven being compiled over the next 12 months and covering such issues as facilities for the disabled, supporter involvement in the running of clubs and the growing commercialisation in the game in the shape of ticket prices and merchandising. The report, Eliminating Racism from Football, has what it describes as a "simple and uncompromising" message. "Zero tolerance of racism in all forms at all levels of the game. Commitment to tackling racism must extend from the game's grass-roots," it says.

The Task Force, who arechaired by David Mellor and comprise people from the various sectors of the game including Graham Kelly, the FA's chief executive, and the black referee Uriah Rennie, have been shocked, I understand, by some of the evidence they have heard around the country over the last few months. Black and Asian players, they have found, are still subjected to serious abuse and even violence on parks pitches in some areas.

The FTF's report also makes clear that as well as being morally unacceptable, racism is short-sightedly detrimental to the well-being and prosperity of the game. An Asian player has still to break into top-flight football, it points out, even though the Asian community makes up 3.5 per cent of the population. This is considerable potential talent being lost.

In addition, the report says that if a more welcoming atmosphere were encouraged at professional grounds, crowds and revenue would increase. Non-white people make up 7.3 per cent of England's population - 3.5 million people - but only one per cent of Premiership crowds. "The resurgence of racist incidents or alleged racist comments makes this report a timely one," says Mellor. "Our main concern is to propose practical measures to stamp out racism wherever it may occur, not just on the pitch or on the terraces but in boardrooms and bootrooms as well."

Some of the recommendations are likely to encounter opposition simply on practical grounds and the co-operation of the PFA and governing bodies will be needed. The Minister for Sport, Tony Banks, has already promised, however, that the government has the will to enforce the Task Force's proposals for the game should it deem them desirable.

Rather than be led, though, it could just be that the English game, through willingness to adopt the ideas of clauses in contracts and instant red cards for on-field racist abuse, might even lead the way in the world.

A VISIT to Berne in midweek confirmed how fortunate we were to have had the late Lord Justice Taylor and his far- sighted recommendations about improving the safety of stadiums in this country.

The Wankdorf Stadium seemed not to have changed since the 1954 World Cup and would certainly not pass a safety inspection over here. Quite apart from bad segregation, actually non-existent in some areas, the exits were dangerous, with spectators herded into fenced-off bottlenecks because only one person was on duty to check tickets. Those exits, too, were only dimly lit. Some English fans were even managing to get into official areas on production of England Travel Club passes.

All this is not good enough for the country that is home to the game's governing bodies, Uefa and Fifa. It's not as if there is no money in the country if it can charge 20 quid for a bowl of soup, an omelette and a bottle of mineral water. The Swiss will counter that their supporters are civilised and well behaved. You just hope these good people don't have to suffer their own Hillsborough before things change.

THE Evening Chronicle in Newcastle is scandalously seeking to cash in on the controversy raging in the North-east. On the very day last week that Sir John Hall returned to the club to clean up after the "sleaze duo", the Chronicle ran a competition to win copies of the new 'digitally remastered' soundtrack of Mary Poppins. "Who played Mary Poppins in the classic film?" the paper asked.

To subvert this shameful opportunism, we supply the answer: Alan Shearer. Or, come to think of it, was it that man once described - it may have been by Douglas Hall or Freddie Shepherd, Libero is not quite sure which - as the Julie Andrews of football, Kevin Keegan?

VIDEO cannot kill the radio star. The lilting Theo Foley, former Charlton manager, was a Radio 5 summariser at a game recently and noted that the fans were getting at the home team. "Patience is urgently required," Theo noted. He went on to point out that one player was "making some soul-searching runs from midfield". There, in one sentence, was captured perfectly that angst of the modern game for the many new-men players who people it.