Over the past decade there have been a lot of issues in football with regards to racism. There have been blatant act of racism shown by football coaches, notably by Spain’s Luis Aragones in 2004, who was trying to motivate one of his players, named Jose Antonio Reyes,by saying that he is better that “negro de mierda” (referring to Reyes’ club team mate at that time Thierry Henry ). This incident caused a furore in the footballing world, as experts could not understand how someone of Aragones’ experience could something so shallow and pathetic. This event probably wasn’t the first ever act of racism in the game, but it was however, the first act of racism in football that got my attention. After this event, I noticed a trend of racism in the game which even included supporters who would chant monkey sounds when a black player has got a ball (noticeably in Spain).
Recently however there have been greater implications of racism in the game because of the use of Twitter. In a game between Manchester United and Liverpool last year, a Liverpool player, Luis Suarez was alleged and found guilty of racially abusing a Manchester United footballer, Patrice Evra. Suarez was banned for 8 games after the incident. During this controversial period also, John Terry, who was the captain of the England National team allegedly used vulgar racist language toward another player, Anton Ferdinand. Terry was cleared of the charge in criminal court, but the English Football Association still found him guilty of racially abusing Anton, resulted in Terry getting stripped of the captaincy of England and subsequently was banned for 4 matches.
The growing concern of these more recent events was the use of social media technology as a channel for some players to either voice their support for another player or to bash the stories they were alleged to have done. This social media tool in question is Twitter. In the racism row of Suarez vs Evra, a teammate of Suarez, Glen Johnson (who is of African descent) publicly supported Suarez in the racism row through Twitter. Johnson has got over 650,000 followers on Twitter. In the case of Terry and Anton Ferdinand, Ashley Cole who is John Terry’s teammate (also of African descent) publicly supported John Terry. Cole has over half a million followers on Twitter. His support of John Terry led to Anton’s brother, Rio Ferdinand calling Cole on Twitter as a “choc ice” which basically means that Cole is black in the outside but culturally white. Rio, has over 3 million followers on Twitter.
The point here is not so much of who is right or wrong. The point here is that when these players says things like this in a public sphere ,in this case Twitter, the image which they bring out is not one of that the players are united against racism, but rather they are all trying to protect themselves. The bunch of followers of these players have on Twitter are mostly young adults who are still learning the game. Acts of calling names, accusing one another or supporting one another on Twitter simply brings a shade of moral ambiguity to the audience on Twitter on whether or not racism can be tolerated in the game.
The English Football Association has publicly stated before that footballer are ambassadors of the game. They are role models your aspiring children who wants to follow their dreams. My question is how can these players be treated as role models when they themselves come up with irresponsible statements through Twitter, and indirectly showing that they care a damn about being role models? Some may say that we cannot blame the players, because they are just being who they are. We have got to take a look, at the medium of which these players are spreading messages.
Twitter. Taken from twitter’s “about page”, it says that :
“Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting. Simply find the accounts you find most compelling and follow the conversations.
At the heart of Twitter are small bursts of information called Tweets. Each Tweet is 140 characters long, but don’t let the small size fool you—you can discover a lot in a little space. You can see photos, videos and conversations directly in Tweets to get the whole story at a glance, and all in one place. ”
This basically means that Twitter is just a giant medium for people to get in touch with things they find important, entertaining, or has got some sort of value to them. Many people, including myself, joined twitter to follow the latest happenings of my friends and idols. With Twitter updates I am connected to these people, and am able to share experiences with them. So the function of Twitter is basically to ensure that people are connected to one another. So footballers for me, has got a role to play to set good examples to their followers. There is an English saying that goes like this “Some things are better left unsaid”. I for one truly believe that professional footballers should stick to this saying when it comes commenting about racism in football.
Another issue that should be raised when talking about racism in football is the amount of attention given to this issue by the media. When a player is accused of racism, the media tends to blow it out of proportion, especially the press in the UK, which results to the content of what we see here in Asia. With regard to the Suarez racism row, even Suarez’s manager at that time, Kenny Dalglish, was accused of being racist for publicly supporting Suarez. While this is bad press, it cannot be verified as true or false, it certainly affects and divides the public opinion. Supporters of Kenny Dalglish would of course deny that Kenny is a racist, while there will be parties who would antagonise Kenny, trying to prove that he is a racist. The impact of this divide in public opinion would eventually send contradictory messages to youngsters, who would probably know that racism in football is wrong, but at the same time they would realize that there are some people support racist people in the game.
FIFA has a programme, called the “Grassroots programme” which is the flagship football development programme for FIFA. Its target is kids aged from 6-12 years old, all over the globe to participate in football, learn the game, and learn human values through the football. This, I have to say, is a wonderful concept presented by FIFA to develop the world’s most popular sport. Nonetheless, I have concerns when they say this programme is to instil “human values” in those kids. I am pretty sure that racism is certainly one of the human values which we would encourage children not to have. I have no doubts that this programme can develop young, talented players, even give a way out for a kid who are stuck in the slums who has got talent in football, but to instil human values in children and young adults takes more than just a development programme.
It is refreshing to see that FIFA is taking steps beyond just fixing the racism problem by fining and banning players when they are found guilty of racially abusing somebody. They are actually beginning to use the children, who are the future, to instil good values. I have a few suggestions for FIFA with regard to educating the young ones in the hope of improving the game. FIFA has got to incorporate “social media education” through the Grassroots Programme for the young kids, for them to understand the power of social media. One may argue that what does a 6 year old know about Twitter? Well, if you teach a kid to not smoke because it is dangerous since he was 6 , don’t you think that the kid would actually have a sense that smoking is dangerous when he is older? Also through this programme FIFA should really bring forth the message of “Kicking Racism Out Of the Game.” FIFA needs to use the funds thrown into this Grassroots program to teach these young kids to be colour blind and love the game. With this programme, hopefully the future generation of footballers will be the agents of change in not only football, but the world.
With regard to amount of media attention given to racism cases in football, I would recommend FIFA to have close doors investigations, avoiding all media personnel when it comes to incidents involving racism. This is to avoid speculation by media and avoiding more allegations which can be potentially damaging for football. Next, FIFA and National Football Associations should pass a legislation banning players from using Twitter or any form of social media when it involves issues or racism or an ongoing investigation which involves acts of racism. This, should serve the purpose of “damage control” toward the image of the game. More importantly, this move will avoid youngsters from having a wrong impression toward where footballers stand when it comes to racism. Youngsters must see that the world of football is 100% against racism, in order for them to truly practice and be against racism.
One may say, the suggestion of banning footballers on social media is a drastic measure and it is like putting a leash on footballers. Well, maybe I am a pessimist, when it comes to freedom of speech, but I strongly believe in kicking racism out of the game, and measures which seem drastic should be taken in order to protect the sanctity of the beautiful game.
I guess the whole point of article is to see how new media, specifically Twitter has affected the landscape of racism in football. Also, this to establish an understanding on what can be done by FIFA to help educate the people of football with regard to racism in the game and the moves that can be taken to eradicate racism from the game.