Editorial: Racism in football - too little progress

 

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When Serbian football fans subjected the England under-21s to racist abuse at a match in Krusevac earlier this week, the response was unanimous across the sport in Britain: such behaviour is inexcusable, and Uefa must act swiftly and decisively to stamp it out.

Just days later, however, efforts to tackle racism in the game back home are – justifiably – under fire. Jason Roberts will not join his colleagues in wearing a "Kick It Out" T-shirt for this weekend's pre-match warm-up because, the Reading striker says, the anti-racism campaign has made little progress. Others may yet join his protest.

Given recent events, it is difficult to contest Roberts' point. After all, this week John Terry, the Chelsea captain, apologised for his racist abuse of Anton Ferdinand last year, and said he would not appeal against the Football Association's guilty verdict; yet Terry faces only a four-match ban and a fine of £220,000 (about nine days' pay). More of a slapped wrist, then, than either a proportionate punishment or a convincing deterrent.

It is not only the FA that is remiss. Chelsea says "further disciplinary action" is being taken, but does not say what such action might be. Refusing to make the matter public, or, apparently, to consider stripping Terry of his captaincy, makes a mockery of the club's supposed policy of "zero tolerance".

Nor is Chelsea alone in talking tough only until its own players are at fault. There was a similar hypocrisy on display in Liverpool FC's defensive response to the charges of racism against Luis Suarez.

Against such a background, it is hard not to share Roberts' conclusions that the anti-racist rhetoric is just window-dressing. The Kick It Out campaign deserves support. But one lobby group cannot hope to succeed if the sporting authorities will not live up to their promises.

Football cannot be entirely singled out. Behaviour at matches only reflects the mores of society at large. But with so much influence comes the responsibility to lead from the front. Any player – black or white – who increases the pressure to do so is to be heartily applauded.

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