The Last Word: FA anti-racist action plan is just an insult
Football's leaders need to produce more than tokenism to prove they are up for the fight
Sunday 16 December 2012
John Obi Mikel has graciously consented to being refereed by Mark Clattenburg, should the need for such a portentous ritual arise. As heartening as this would appear in this season of goodwill to all men, it merely confirms football's capacity for hypocrisy and grandiloquence.
Mikel could well become a world champion today when Chelsea play Corinthians in the final of that extension of Sepp Blatter's ego, the Club World Cup. The example he sets, and the issue with which his club are so closely identified, will be locked away, like a mad maiden aunt in Victorian Britain.
The symbolism of man and moment has an irresistible symmetry. Mikel is on day release from a woefully inadequate domestic suspension for threatening Clattenburg, which proved mutually expedient for Chelsea and the FA. He will be playing for a prize no one cares about, at the behest of men such as Michel Platini.
The Uefa president, presenting political pragmatism as personal principle, promises to add to his gargantuan carbon footprint by returning quickly from his Japanese jolly to reassess the much-derided punishment imposed on the Serbian authorities for allowing England's Under-21 footballers to be physically and racially abused.
Like Chelsea, Uefa are in a perpetual state of crisis management designed to convince us they are good corporate citizens. They must know the world sees through the Orwellian double-speak of such slogans as "We Care About Football", yet they produce reams of self-congratulatory tosh hailing their work addressing "racism, reconciliation and peace, football for all abilities, violence, health, humanitarian aid, fan work and the environment".
Platini needed another controversy generated by systematic leniency to racist behaviour as much as Chelsea needed John Terry, in his underpants, gurning into a camera from the treatment table during the Yokohama semi-final. The former England captain reminded us of the inconvenient truth that English football is indeed in "a moral vacuum".
History is repeating itself. Lord Herman Ouseley, who delivered that devastatingly concise and accurate conclusion, was, as a young black man in the Seventies, driven away from football by prejudice and violence. He is being similarly alienated by institutional ignorance, which cannot be offset by gesture politics.
The FA's lamentable Football Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan promises to "promote inclusion and eliminate discrimination whether by reason of race, nationality, ethnic origin, colour, age, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, marital status, religion or belief, ability or disability".
This bureaucratic bible has 92 points – one for each League club, naturally – and a solitary objective: showing politicians that Something Has Been Done. It is insulting, patronising and self-serving.
The principles are admirable but the thinking is flawed. A quota system for referees and coaches is the worst type of tokenism. By all means seek intelligent and inclusive role models, but do not espouse a cartoon version of Britishness because it will play well before a select committee. Sweep away blimpish time-servers in the county FAs, but do not pretend that passes as cultural change.
A little bit of market research would not have gone amiss before FA chairman, David Bernstein, became involved in political grandstanding. The feedback from foreign players on the prospect of being given cultural lessons was best expressed by Adel Taarabt, QPR's Moroccan-born, French-raised midfielder. "What, after training?" he asked. "Nah..."
Bernstein is well-intentioned, and the FA deserve praise for their determination to shame Uefa into further sanctions on Serbia. But he is treated like a shoeshine boy by Blatter and Co. The FA are compromised by their hesitancy in challenging the interests of the big clubs and big players.
Lord Ouseley will not be the only good man to walk away with a sense of sadness and disgust.
City aim to take over the world
There used to be a football club called Manchester City. They were endearingly idiosyncratic, intermittently successful and consistently entertaining. The name is the same but the game has changed. City are now a marketing tool for an emirate which seeks respect and acceptance through the global passion for football.
City denied well-sourced reports from the US that their owners are willing to pay a record $100 million (£62m) for an MSL franchise in New York as part of a broader scheme to invest in leagues around the world.
But the concept has an irresistible logic. The vision of City playing Barcelona, by proxy, in Mumbai, Macau or Melbourne is no longer so far-fetched. It may take a generation to play out, but a tipping point has been reached.
City's proposed Etihad Campus is already the sort of social regeneration project which was once the province of central government. When unlimited wealth is linked to relentless ambition, conventional balances of power are distorted.
The fuss about City's latest losses misses a fundamental point. Superclubs, aligned to brands like David Beckham, do not need executive leeches from Uefa or Fifa to tell them their business. They will become bigger than the game itself.
And the game, as we know it, will wither and die.
Despite his Ryder Cup performance, Ian Poulter was considered unworthy of a place in tonight's BBC festival of self-aggrandisement. His absence from the shortlist for Sports Personality of the Year confirms the futility of this overblown beauty pageant.
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