When correctness goes the wrong way

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The Independent Online
IF ANY MORE storm-troopers of the political correctness movement start massing on the borders of sport, we may have to send for Prince Charles. His recent speech about the areas of our national life being controlled by 'fashionable theorists peddling trendy dogmas' revealed him to be an indefatigable crusader for traditional ways even if his views did bring an uncommon amount of abuse raining upon his head.

The Prince did not feel he had to defend sport in his tirade but there are clear signs that the PC monitors are turning their attention towards our harmless, health-giving pleasures. We have seen this from the outraged reaction to the inclusion of compulsory team games for all ages up to 16 in the national curriculum launched by the Education Secretary, John Patten, on Tuesday.

You may have also noticed that since Arsenal won the European Cup-Winners' Cup 11 days ago they have been widely and persistently vilified for the style of play with which they gained the honour. It is not reassuring to think that there is now a politically correct way of playing football.

There are, of course, many ways in which we in and around sport can correct our funny habits and attitudes if they give offence but, in fairness, sport's record of dealing sensitively with people's physical characteristics is exemplary. For instance, we have not had to resort to newly minted expressions like 'vertically challenged'. Footballing short-arses have long been respectfully referred to as stocky midfield generals, fatties are dignified as barrel-chested and doddering old fools get away with being called wily veterans.

However, there are areas of discrimination that leave a lot to be desired. The ladies - or the 'jock-strap deficient' as we like to refer to them - are very badly treated by several sports in the matter of equality but the PC brigade can be assured that they have the remedy in their own hands.

I have earned much personal opprobrium by predicting that women will eventually play games at international level alongside men and win the major prizes at most if not all the individual sports. For that to be possible they will have to compete side by side with the men. Women enjoy success in those sports where that already occurs and, although it will not be an easy transition, it is the direction towards which all their efforts should be aimed. They cannot have equality and a separate existence.

Religious and racial discrimination have been justly the subject of far more serious accusations against sport and it was gratifying last week to hear of a decline in racist abuse in football. At the launch of the second phase of the 'Kick Racism Out of Football' campaign, it was reported that chants aimed at black players were becoming rarer.

Backed by the Campaign for Racial Equality, the Professional Footballers' Association, the Football Trust and the clubs themselves, the campaign will continue to root out racism and ban the perpetrators. Football is by no means the only game in which racism surfaces, but the campaigners know that it has the highest profile and offers the best chance of bringing a universal improvement. Perhaps the disappearance of the terraces next season will help disperse the fascist brotherhood.

The attitude to black players in football through the years has been largely subjective, depending on whether your club had one. Then was applied the rule 'if he's good enough, he's white enough'. It is the players themselves who have brought about a more profound and genuine acceptance. Their courage, ability and hard work has earned them the respect of all but the ragged fringes and the game, with its steadily climbing attendances at all levels, would not be as appealing without their contribution.

But one aspect of the campaign raised concern. It was pointed out that Everton do not have, and have not had, a black player in their team. It may not be a coincidence that neither do the Goodison Park crowd enjoy the best racial abuse record.

The Wimbledon striker John Fashanu commented: 'Although the supporters' side of things is getting better at Goodison, in 1994 we would expect to see one or two black players out on the pitch.'

I have no idea if the lack of black players at Everton is due to a deliberate policy but I am sure that attempting to force a quota on them is political correctness gone mad. At the very least it will put intolerable pressure on their new manager Mike Walker and any black player he feels he must recruit to keep the books straight.

It is ironic that such a problem exists here when sport can justifiably take some small credit for last week's elections in South Africa. It has been acknowledged that the sporting boycott played a significant part in destroying apartheid. Many sportsmen took part and the outcome was well worth their effort, although some of us had the odd grumble about what we were missing, not least the rugby union fraternity.

It was interesting, therefore, to see the England rugby team landing there before Nelson Mandela had time to get himself sworn in as President. But surely it was not necessary, in the midst of all that touching euphoria, for the world rugby authorities to announce their plans for the staging of the 1995 World Cup should South Africa prove unable to be the hosts.

As a vote of confidence in a newly constructed democracy, it lacked a certain sincerity - particularly coming from a sport which is more reluctant than any to completely sever its ties with the old regime. Its reason for clinging on was that rugby was above politics and should be used to build bridges between nations.

I trust that this remains its conviction, because if ever South Africa needed bridges to be built it is over the next few years and the Rugby World Cup, involving teams of all colours and creeds, will be an ideal focus for the new nation's development.

Obviously, if there is any threat of violent unrest the staging of the World Cup would have to be re- considered. But last week, of all weeks, South Africa needed solid gestures of support, not an announcement that the rugby world was so defiantly ready to help that it had prepared its retreat well in advance. It was hardly a politically correct action to take.

ENGLAND have two home games coming up over the next seven days. They play Greece on Tuesday and Norway on Sunday. The official advert urging fans to buy tickets is headed 'Terry's Big Week at Wembley'.

Does this mean that Terry Venables is going to play Greece and Norway on his own or will he arrange for 11 players to stand in for him on each occasion? Does it mean that he will sit in the Royal Box on his own or will he be accompanied by as many of the 90 FA Council members who feel the need for a free sandwich.

And will the rest of Wembley be empty or can we expect a few fans? And maybe one or two of us will be allowed to watch on television. Perhaps 'England's Big Week at Wembley' would have signified a little less hysterical reliance on the manager as a Messiah.

I can't believe the FA sanctioned this approach. It does no favours to Terry. Especially if it doesn't turn out to be a big week.