Football must show racism the same opposition as the Super League

Football proved remarkably adept at uniting against a common enemy in the Super League. The same energy must now be used for racism and the game’s other ills, writes Melissa Reddy

Tuesday 20 April 2021 17:29 BST
(Getty Images)

It is the morning after the night before, England’s ‘Big Six’ doing a walk of shame after seedy dalliances with a Super League that didn’t last 48 hours.

The plan to ̶s̶a̶v̶e̶ ̶f̶o̶o̶t̶b̶a̶l̶l̶ swell the pockets of 12 clubs was skewered by the game’s authorities, politicians, broadcasters and supporters in England uniting on an unparalleled scale.

Players took a stand and managers spoke out against a project they were not consulted over and did not buy in to, directly opposing their owners and exposing the whole scheme as a shameless power grab.

Ta ra, Super League. Happy re-shaping and drinking the delusion juice that the breakaway’s goals are “offering fans the best experience possible while enhancing solidarity payments for the entire football community.”

The last two days have unequivocally proven that the sport can unite in the most powerful way to ward off undesirables.

The togetherness against the Super League was coated by aggression. The determination to use whatever tool necessary – removal from domestic and continental leagues for the 12 founding clubs, a revoking of national team representation for their players, legal wars and “legislative bombs” – to foil a brazen act of greed. 

Real action. Not just statements of condemnation, hashtags, slogans and, on the rare occasion, a gentle slap on the wrist for wrongdoing.

We have seen the strength, we have seen the vigour, we have lapped up the talk of protecting the greater good of the sport. There’s no going back now.

As Leeds striker Patrick Bamford perfectly spelled out on Monday night, this energy needs to be replicated to confront racism in the game and eradicate its other ills.

“It’s amazing the amount of uproar that comes into the game when somebody’s pockets are being hurt,” he so accurately deduced. “It’s a shame it’s not like that when all things go wrong, like with racism.”

It was just two short, sharp sentences. But as the words rolled out of Bamford’s mouth, it resonated across football and around the world.

We have become conditioned to acts of appeasement rather than true measures to mark against such deep-rooted problems, but suddenly here was an almighty alliance to counterpunch a new threat.

Uefa, Fifa, the major European leagues, Sky Sports, BT Sport – and the list goes on – were directly financially affected by the Super League. 

There are multiple issues with all these stakeholders, each needing column inches of their own.

So to ignore or deny self-interest on their part would be to live in la la land. The same residence that believes Florentino Perez’s claim that the 12 clubs have designed this closed shop saviours of the game.

The immediate, robust, collective response to this ghastly plan did have undercurrents beyond protecting sporting integrity and the soul of institutions that billionaire owners were happy to shred for the sake of greater profit.

That doesn’t negate the reaction though, which was still correct in the main, whatever some of the hidden motivations.

Significantly, we can now expect venom and change to them. The broadcasters and their star personalities underscored that football is soulless without supporters, so how about not shafting them with ridiculous kick off times and expensive subscription packages?

A good idea might be to not respond to their anger at mismanagement by an owner with “round your money up and take over the club then.”

The authorities, these self-styled superheroes that believe they came to the rescue of fans, can now ensure fairer ticket prices for them and far bigger allocations for cup finals.

Government, pleased with the distraction from their own failings and using the game to gain acclamation, must deliver their “root-and-branch examination” of football in this country.

Measures to ensure that wealthy owners cannot bend historic institutions to their greedy whims are paramount.

An in-depth look into the UK Football Policing Unit’s insistence on viewing the attendance of matches as a public disorder threat would be welcomed.

Fifa and Uefa, we haven’t bumped our heads and forgotten your staggering levels of corruption. To the former, not background noise that you’re hosting a World Cup in Qatar, with its atrocious human rights record, prohibition of homosexuality and the systematic exploitation of migrant workers through elements of the kafala – sponsorship – scheme that still exists.

Uefa, the expanded Champions League is an abomination with its 100 more fixtures every season. Remove the two places now reserved for clubs with the highest coefficient not to qualify.

There is an overflow of wrongs to get through, like football’s unhealthy relationship with betting companies.

But above everything, the past 48 hours has shown us that football can indeed be more bullish with racism.

There was a willingness to bar players from representing their countries if they belonged to a Super League club, despite them not even wanting the new tournament.

Yet Uefa recently handed out a meagre 10-game ban to Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela for “racist behaviour” towards Glen Kamara in the Europa League. It was the minimum sentence they could impose. The Rangers player, who naturally retaliated to being dehumanised and labelled a “f*****g monkey”, received a three-match suspension for assault.

There was rightly an outcry over the weak punishment for Kudela and bewilderment over penalising Kamara for being racially attacked. Uefa executive Alexey Sorokin’s stance? He felt it was a “waste of time” to criticise the decisions.

Rangers manager Steven Gerrard gestures towards Ondrej Kudela (EPA)

Pardon me? When is it ever pointless to pick at pitiable punishments that do little to dissuade future perpetrators? How is it a waste of time to highlight the insanity of disciplining the victim? Why should holding authorities to account by questioning where their priorities lie be termed futile?

The weak reactions to racism will no longer be tolerated. Save your outrage and fancy campaigns and show us “legislative bombs,” expulsions, meaningful bans and proper fines.

Take on the reactive, derisory approach from social media companies to the discriminatory abuse on their platforms. 

Copyright infringement, a monetary concern, is treated like a crime. But you can be hateful, dehumanise people, and wish death upon them almost at will online. 

We demand the same intention, aggression and real action to racism, or the death of migrant workers while working on stadiums, or homophobia, or sexism, or any other unacceptable element in football not linked to finances. 

Show us you really do care about the game, about its people, and not just the riches it generates.

We’ve witnessed how rapidly and resolutely the game can unite and go on the attack to eradicate an ill.

Now we must expect and force it to do the same in all harmful matters – the ones much more significant than adding zeroes to an industry already far too often shaped by how best to further balloon overflowing pockets.

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