Leading Article: Gesture politics will not defeat football racism

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The Independent Online
HARD though it is to find fault with the Commission for Racial Equality's new campaign to 'kick racism out of football', seven out of Britain's 92 professional football clubs have managed to do so nevertheless. Those clubs have been asked to print messages in their programmes or to stick posters up at their grounds saying clearly that they disapprove of the taunts thrown at black footballers - and have refused. The charitable explanation for this is that the dissenting clubs fear the CRE's campaign is little more than gesture politics. Less charitable observers will see it as proof of how much further the British football establishment must go before racism is fully purged from the game.

Thankfully, the CRE may be pushing at an open door. The yelled insults and gestures that used to be routine at Leeds or Chelsea matches in the mid-Eighties are now a rarity. Since 1991, racist chanting has been made a criminal offence in its own right, under the Football (Offences) Act - although only 76 people were arrested under the new legislation in the 1991-2 season, out of more than 5,000 football-related arrests.

Football clubs themselves have helped. By co-operating with the police and controlling its home ground more carefully, Leeds United has put behind it an embarrassing history of racism on the terraces. Other clubs have raised unofficial stewards from supporters' clubs to keep an eye on potential trouble-makers. But the factor most responsible for the improvement in behaviour may simply be the increase in the number of black players. Evidence given to a parliamentary committee this summer suggests that the loudest jeers are reserved for black players on the opposing team. When they see black players on their home ground week after week, the crowds appear to tire of the old jokes.

The two black managers running professional clubs this season will surely help this process along; so too will the promotion, albeit temporary, of England's first black national captain. But there is more to be done in club boardrooms, which appear to remain above the glass ceiling. Police officers, may also need to think again: some prefer turning a blind eye to racists on the terraces to using the powers already in their hands.

In the end, however, the football racists will fall into two groups: those whose prejudices are unthinking, who make ape-like gestures and crack banana jokes 'just for a laugh'; and the smaller, hard core of out- and-out hooligans who will hunt for people with dark skins to beat up after the match. The CRE's campaign will do much to help members of the first group see the error of their ways. For those in the second group, the best remedy will be found in tighter security at grounds and more vigilant policing outside.