Thirty or so years ago, the ugly and evil spectre of racism in sport and, in particular, football, was at its most rampant and played on the minds of decent and honourable people in the UK.
During the ensuing period, efforts have been made to address and mend this problem but it is still very much in the game. Indeed, it is not clear whether or not it is a product endemic of the society or simply isolated bunches of yobs scattered across the UK and, in some cases Europe, behaving in an animal like manner.
There is regular racial abuse against black footballers in the UK but last weekend it hit the headlines with a bang. Could it have reached its nadir? One hopes but fears not.
The black Manchester City and England Player, Raheem Sterling, was subjected to the most disgusting and disgraceful volley of racial abuse that can be imagined when he played against Chelsea F.C. in London. Chelsea has banned four fans for their alleged part in the assault.
For a few years, Sterling has been the target for racist slurs and it is to his credit that he has tended to ignore them. He has risen above the layers of muck which have been thrown his way and he seems to have taken advice from Mrs Michelle Obama and has played high while his detractors have gone low. He has responded only to say that parts of the British Press are responsible for fuelling racism in the game.
The player, believed to earn in excess of £150,000 per week, has been pilloried, unlike his white colleagues, for the way he is supposed to be spending his money and for the places where he shops. But pray tell, what does it matter to press men? Could it be that they feel that an originally poor black boy who was raised in the ghetto like the bowels of Harlesden, North West London has no right to shop other than in the confines of a flea market or eat other than at a take-away cook shop? I wish he would come to my shop.
People all over the UK are disgusted and have come to the support of Sterling. The Representative of the Professional Footballers Association has been critical of the vagabonds and has acknowledged that Sterling has been targeted. He said his association will stand shoulder to shoulder with Sterling.
Back in the early 20th century, the first black officer in the British Forces and third professional footballer of colour in the UK, Barbadian descendant Lieutenant Walter Tull, was a victim of racial abuse wherever he played. Tull’s experiences came to the notice of a mainly black public in the 1990s and formed one of the examples for the founding of an organization titled ‘Kick It Out’ which fights against racism in the sport. Its boss, Lord Ousley, said, “We have already made comments about the way Raheem has been treated differently by the media.” Lord Ousley continued, “What happened at Chelsea shows what is still going on in football.” He questioned the whereabouts of the FA Chairman, Premier League Chief Executive and Chelsea FC Chairman and said they should have been talking out on the night. He lamented the lack of a presence of black people at the top of football and said black players relied on the efforts of Kick It Out for protection.
However, an interesting view is given by Stan Collymore, a former premier league player and England representative. Collymore, whose father is Barbadian, offered the view in the UK Guardian Newspaper that the ‘Racism outrage will pass, as it always does’. The laid back attitude surely does not help. He said, “The double standards and hypocrisy get swept under the carpet because nobody in this country and in the media especially, wants to tackle race in the country.” Warming to his theme, he added, “Everyone is speaking about it now because one of the most famous and brilliant footballers raised the issue but it will soon die down.” Surely, this is not the time to take a glancing acknowledgement of this cancer that is at best poisonous.
Amid all the words and comments floating around, let us leave the final ones to the 22-year-old international star. He said “The young black kid is looked at in a bad light which helps fuel racism and aggressive behaviour. So, for all the newspapers that don’t understand why people are racist in this day and age, all I have to say is – have a second thought about fair publicity and give all players an equal chance.”
If Sterling had been raised in the suburbs of England and educated at Oxbridge his comments could not have been more measured.
Mr Vincent “Boo” Nurse is a Barbadian living in London who is a retired land Revenue Manager, Pensions and Investment Adviser. He is passionate about the development of his island home and Disapora.