Black players must stand up against racism

Carla Palmer says that their silence makes it possible for racism to thrive in football

Black players in the UK can play a key role in fighting racism in football, says Carla Palmer, a freelance writer. She observes that their silence makes it possible for racism to thrive in football. Carla was born in Scotland to a Jamaican father and Scottish mother.

Mrs. Carla Palmer

She was brought up in Nottingham from the age of nine. Carla spent six years working as a teaching assistant in an inner city primary school where she studied for a Foundation Degree in Education Support and a BA (hons) in Education.

Andrew Palmer, Carla’s husband, has been a prominent figure in the mid to lower level coaching structure of English football but his being black, has made it difficult for him to break through into the professional levels of the game.

A mother of three, Carla is passionate about education and social issues. Here’s an exclusive interview she granted The AfroNews.

Carla, racism is widespread in football in the UK but black players hardly react to it. Why do you think this happens?
The time has come in football for black players to use their influence to make a stand against racism in the game. There has been a lot of discussion in the media about racism recently. From issues relating to racist abuse of black players to controversy over the lack of black managers the issue of racism is clearly not going to leave football any time soon.

The problem has been a feature of football for many years. The strangest thing about the whole issue is how quiet the black players have remained about the matter. It has to be asked how much the majority of black players are actually disturbed by the racist treatment they receive by fellow players, officials and fans.

Have they accepted racism as an inevitable feature of the game that cannot be changed? Have they given up trying to fight for their rights to be treated with respect? Or do they fear taking action in case they lose their jobs? Whilst there have been some players who have spoken up about racism and lent their support to campaigns and initiatives to eradicate racism, most of the players seem content to play on regardless. On top of that they appear to be reluctant to speak out about it openly.
Do you think the silence of black players has made it possible for racism to thrive in football?
This silence is no doubt one of the reasons why some people, even fellow players feel bold enough to racially abuse players so brazenly. We might think that in the Internet, social media obsessed and information sharing times we now live, white players would be afraid to racially abuse others publicly, surely they would fear the backlash. But recent evidence in the world of football and the media suggests otherwise. It would appear that black footballers have become defeated from having to work so hard to get where they are and given up fighting for what is right. Whilst there is much talk about kicking racism out of football there is not a lot of the type of drastic action needed to bring about change.

When the players abused during the England v Spain game in Madrid in 2004 played against a backdrop of monkey chants, what made them continue to play? There are not many other places of work where a black professional would continue to do their work with a monkey chant soundtrack being played in the background. They would take serious offence and insist that something be done about it. What is different in football? Is there a secret in the football world that we don’t know? As long as players and officials in football bodies such as Sepp Blatter (FIFA President) know they can explain away racist abuse, apologise or pay a fine that doesn’t significantly affect their financial status, racism will continue and worsen. This leaves the responsibility of doing something to change the situation on the players themselves.

Mrs. Carla and her husband Andrew Palmer

Why do you think black players can play the leading role in fighting against racism in football in the UK?
Footballers are influential enough to have thousands of followers on Twitter and to market £300 football boots to children so they are certainly influential enough to kick racism out of football. The rise in the celebrity status of footballers in the modern era allows them the perfect opportunity to have an influence on the attitudes that permeate the game.

The real rulers of football are the players. They hold more power and influence than anyone else. If they refuse to play there is no game and the fact that games were stopped in Holland in the past due to racism shows that there is a potential for change through action. Black players should capitalise on this and make a concerted effort to influence attitudes by refusing to play whenever racist incidents occur. How would the English FA or FIFA like to see a dramatic drop in the amount of money lining their pockets as a result of mass walk outs and refusal to play? The answer is they wouldn’t and black players stopping to play would be a sure way to get people to sit up and pay attention. It shouldn’t be done in a form that suggests they are running away from the problem but more as if they are taking a stand against something in principle.

Surely many white players and officials who are sick of racism in the game would also support this action since figures such as David Beckham, Neil Warnock and Gordon Taylor have already demonstrated by commenting that they lend their support to the cause. This type of united movement would also give the support that is needed to bring in rules that would protect the rights of black coaches similar to the Rooney Rule in the American National Football League (NFL).

There is the temptation for black players to give up battling for anything once they have achieved their dream. However, they must be reminded that money cannot make a man. Nor can it make it OK for fellow players to wantonly hurl racist abuse around. If high salaries and jet setting, playboy lifestyles are allowed to cloud players’ vision in relation to their value as black men in the game there is no hope of seeing a better world for future generations.
What can be done to effectively fight racism in football?
Time has passed when the likes of John Barnes, Cyril Regis, Larry Cunningham and Viv Anderson had to put up with racist abuse because they were in a powerless minority.

Black players make up around 25% of the money makers for teams in the Premiership. If they get together and stand up against racism this will make a huge impact on everyone involved and following the game. The fans who choose to chant monkey noises wouldn’t be happy to see their hard earned cash paid for a ticket to watch the beautiful game go down the drain because black players are walking off the pitch and refusing to continue to play. This is the sort of drastic action needed on the part of black players.

They need not fear that they will be sacked from their team since they will certainly have the support of millions of fans including many who are white and cannot stand the way that racism is spoiling football. Many parents would warmly support the actions of players that their children look up to for an example of how to behave properly when playing sports. No amount of hush money paid to footballers can replace the right to be treated with respect by fellow players, officials and fans.
If the head of FIFA can make racist remarks and remain in his position, the black players who are racially abused are perfectly justified in exercising their democratic rights to protest, boycott and refuse to play. They are respected and revered by many people including black and Asian coaches and young children who aspire to be like them. This makes their reaction to racist abuse important for themselves and future generations of football players and followers.

The increased celebrity status that footballers have enjoyed in modern times and the popularity of many black footballers makes them powerful enough to have a significant impact on changing the way the society deals with racism.

History tells us that action is what eradicates racism. It’s time for black footballers to give up keeping quiet and enjoying the luxuries of being a well-paid sportsman and show that they will not stand it any longer. The old adage “sticks and stones” is just that; old. It’s both outdated and foolish to believe that what we say to people does not really hurt them.

Research by social scientists has proven this to be false particularly in relation to children who are hugely impressionable. Children growing up hearing racial abuse being tossed around on football pitches and seeing examples of people repeatedly getting away with racially abusing others are seriously damaged by this in many ways. They will believe that this is an unchangeable part of life or that it is OK for them to allow such words to come out of their mouths when angry or frustrated during a game.

The appeal from all educated followers of the game is its time for less talk and more action to kick racism out of football once and for all.

By Stephen Ogongo Ongong’a