It has been an unedifying couple of months for English football.
First, the Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was accused of insulting a Manchester United player with a reference to the colour of his skin. Then, not two weeks later, the Chelsea captain John Terry allegedly racially abused an opponent from Queens Park Rangers.
Both players have put up a strong defence: Suarez on the grounds that the word he used is not considered insulting in his native Uruguay, Terry by denying the accusation altogether. But the incidents have still caused a furore – and rightly so. It need hardly be said that racist language is wholly unacceptable in all and any circumstances. In Premier League football, with its vast audiences and disproportionate cultural influence, rigorously enforced zero tolerance is the only possible policy.
But the latest fracas has nothing to do with the incidents themselves. Rather, it is about the response from Liverpool FC to the guilty verdict and eight-match ban handed down to Suarez by the Football Association this week. The club's decision about whether to appeal must wait for the details of the judgment. Meanwhile, Liverpool players have made a show of their support for Suarez by wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his image at the warm-up for their next game. This has to be considered an ill-advised move, drawing denunciations from some people, and equally fervent defences from others, with everyone focused on divisive issues of race.
There can be nothing inherently wrong with players standing by a team-mate But more care should have been taken to avoid confusion between support for the man himself and conthe demnation of references to the colour of a person's skin. Liverpool players would have done better to warm up in anti-racism T-shirts, and to express their loyalty to Suarez another way. Instead, tensions have only been further inflamed.
There is no place for racial language in football, whether it is intended as abuse or not. On such a sensitive issue, Liverpool FC should have thought more carefully.Reuse content