Sir Alex Ferguson has warned Rio Ferdinand that he must comply with instructions to wear a Kick It Out T-shirt before today's game with Stoke City at Old Trafford, despite the Manchester United defender considering a boycott over what he perceives to be failures in the handling of the John Terry affair.
Ferguson insisted that "all the players" would be wearing the T-shirt and he issued a barbed criticism of Reading's Jason Roberts, who has publicly revealed his intent to boycott the white T-shirt, having privately informed Kick It Out of that decision months ago. Ferdinand's deliberations on the issue also store up potential controversy for next weekend when Chelsea's nominated game to publicise Kick It Out's annual "One Game, One Community" is the home match against United. The 33-year-old may find it doubly difficult to wear a T-shirt before that fixture.
Anton Ferdinand's Queen's Park Rangers manager, Mark Hughes, said he expected his player to wear a T-shirt against Everton tomorrow.
Ferguson said Roberts, who believes that Kick it Out is fatally flawed by lacking independence from the Football Association, was "making the wrong point" by rejecting the organisation. "Everyone should be united, with all the players in the country wearing the Kick It Out warm-up tops," the United manager said. "I don't know what point he is trying to make. I don't know if he is trying to put himself on a different pedestal from everyone, but he really should be supporting all the rest of the players who are doing it. When you do something, and everyone believes in it, you should all do it together. There shouldn't be sheep wandering off. I think he is making the wrong message."
Roberts was travelling to Anfield yesterday for Reading's match with Liverpool this afternoon and was unwilling to discuss Ferguson's comments as he prepared himself for that fixture. But privately, the 34-year-old is deeply disappointed by the United manager's response, particularly the inference that he is seeking attention. Roberts's decision is an individual one and he has not sought to recruit other players, such as either of the Ferdinands, to create a broader protest.
The Kick it Out chairman, Lord Herman Ouseley, told Roberts in a BBC interview last night that wealthy, powerful players should not expect his organisation to be a voice for all black players. "I have no intention of speaking for black footballers who have lots of money and power. They have much more power if they organise themselves. Don't pretend that Kick it Out would be more powerful by being independent," he said.
The organisation has positioned itself as an ally to Anton Ferdinand in the Terry case, with one of its representatives sitting alongside the player's advisers, Pete Smith and Jamie Moralee, in accompanying the QPR player during Terry's Westminster Magistrates' Court hearing this summer. Lord Ouseley has strongly criticised the way Liverpool dealt with the Luis Suarez/Patrice Evra case and was also quick on Thursday to attack both the failure of Terry to extend an apology to Ferdinand for directing racist abuse at him during last season's Loftus Road fixture and of Chelsea's failure to be transparent about the club fine meted out to the player.
Yet Roberts is among a number of black players who feel a stronger voice is needed against racism in the game. There is also frustration in the Roberts camp that the striker and broadcaster has been left among black members of the football fraternity to speak up on racism, with Rio Ferdinand's own views on the subject emerging only in fragments on Twitter or occasional interviews.
Mark McCammon, the black former Barbados international whom an employment tribunal found three months ago to have been racially victimised in his dismissal by Gillingham, told The Independent yesterday that he was "disappointed" it was being left to Roberts to speak out. He said that something more than "T-shirts and bulletins" were needed to enforce the point that racism was still present in the game.
"Why is Kick It Out such a small organisation? Is this how seriously people are taking it?" asked McCammon, who has now left the game. "This all just gets swept under the carpet. People just say you've got a chip on your shoulder. Now Sir Alex Ferguson, a white person, thinks he is in a position to say what he has said about Jason Roberts. He is one of the best managers in the world but that doesn't make him the best in the world for an understanding of racism."
Kick It Out's former director Piara Powar, now executive director of the Football Against Racism in Europe (Fare) network, said he appreciated Roberts's frustration but insisted his former organisation was not a part of the problem. "If Kick It Out had not been in existence over the past 20 years the situation would be worse," Powar said. "There has been some discontent amongst black players for some time – the discontent is with the FA and the sense that English football has failed to effectively deal with the John Terry situation. More militancy from black players is welcome; they are in a powerful position. The public will understand the sense of anger over the fact that players are in the front line of abuse and this feeling that the authorities have not acted in the right way in every case; it has led to an unprecedentedly bitter and divisive year.
"The whole situation has highlighted how English football has been tackling racism for a long time, but a lot of it has felt like lip service."
Who are Kick It Out? Factfile
Founded in 1993 as a campaign, Lets Kick Racism Out of Football, and became an organisation four years later. Is pledged to combat discrimination in all forms in the game.
Funded by a number of bodies including the Professional Footballers’ Association, the Football Association and the Premier League.
First Kick It Out week of action was in 2001. Ironically the Queen’s Park Rangers v Chelsea game when John Terry clashed with Anton Ferdinand was during last year’s week.
Has a budget of approximately £500,000 most coming from the FA, the PFA and the Premier League and employs seven people.