Ava Vidal: It is time for the Civil Rights Movement to hit the football pitch

 

So the trial is over. John Terry has been found innocent. It was agreed by all, including Terry himself, that he called Anton Ferdinand a black c**t - but the magistrate held that we couldn’t be sure how he meant it. OK then.

Looking away from Terry, the ugly issue of racism is one that keeps raising its head when we speak about the beautiful game. And it is a very divisive issue amongst fans, players and footballing authorities. Nobody is united on how to deal with it.

Seb Blatter caused outrage last year when he advised victims of racism to just shake hands with their abusers at the end of the game. “Why do we have to talk about racism? Leave it out of football! It’s just a game!” is what is often said to those that complain about it. Though I notice this is directed always to the victims and never to the perpetrators.

Recently Sol Campbell advised black and Asian football fans not to travel to watch any Euro 2012 games because of the chance that they may be victims of racial attacks that may result in serious injury or even death. Many including the family of Arsenal player Theo Walcott took his advice and stayed away.

His comments so outraged some England fans that they expressed their unhappiness by holding a demonstration against him chanting “Sol you’re wrong.”

After England crashed out of the tournament after losing on penalties (yet again) we saw a glimpse of what black players still have to put up with from their so called fans. After Ashley Young and Ashley Cole- one of John Terry’s defence witnesses-missed their penalty shots Twitter was full of racist comments about the two players.

Some of the abuse was so horrifying that many people including myself forwarded the tweets to the police so that they could investigate. England have missed many penalties in many games yet when a white player misses, never is their colour brought into it. I wonder how many of those at the anti-Sol demo were as horrified by this? Even if they were it was obviously not enough to demonstrate about it.

Inspired in part by this case Clarke Carlise explored the issue in a documentary called ‘Is Football Racist?’ I was interviewed as I am a huge football fan and a patron of the charity Show Racism the Red Card.

I have listened with disgust as former players describe what it was like to be the first black players in the big clubs. They faced abuse at the hands of opposing fans and team members. Sometimes they had to endure it from their own fans and even their team mates.

Tales of bananas being thrown on to the pitch, monkey noises every time they touched the ball and one player told me he had lost count of the times that he had been racially abused. 

Fast forward to 2012 and not much has changed. But what can we do about it? As Clarke Carlise found out there is still a reluctance to talk about how extensive the issue is. He found it easy to find contributors from retired players but current players even the high profile ones don’t want to be seen to speak out.

Football is a lucrative but short-lived career and if you stick your head above the parapet then you risk being seen as a troublemaker or someone with a chip on their shoulder. You could be dismissed by management and lose sponsorship deals worth thousands and sometimes millions of pounds.

The footballing authorities must do something about the current situation. At the moment they do not support the victims. UEFA recently announced that any black players that walks off the football pitch during a game after receiving racial abuse shall be given a yellow card. The message they sent is clear-we don’t care enough about you to deal with the racists, but if you try to you’ll be punished.

It is time for the Civil Rights Movement to hit the football pitch. Black players and their team mates need to show a united front and deal with this problem. They must do it for the black fans that want to enjoy the sport, the up and coming black players and the children that look up to them.

They must also do it for themselves. When they tell their grandchildren the story of when a racist threw a banana on the pitch, do they want to tell them they dribbled around it? Or that the person that threw it ended up with a soft yellow suppository?

Any victim of racial abuse should leave the pitch immediately and their team mates should follow. We need to boycott clubs and organisations that refuse to deal with this issue of racism. Once they suffer economic hardship then we will see how quickly they can deal with the issue. And maybe we can show racism the red card once and for all.

Ava Vidal is a comedian and a patron of Show Racism the Red Card.

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