Is Racism Still Rife In English Football?

10 12 2012

December 2011

The idea of discrimination still persisting in today’s world is hard for anyone to comprehend. Over a process of time, education has been important to try and abolish prejudices which have stemmed down from the past to help establish equality. With its working class roots, football grounds have previously been the place in which people from ethnic minorities have suffered vile abuse. Most had felt those days were a thing of the past until the recent John Terry and Luis Suarez racism scandals, which has prodded the question ‘Is there still racism in football’?

Firstly, it is important to actually define what racism is and how it affects people. Hylton defines its mainstream definition (2009, p.10) ‘Racism is considered as a popular analytical concept that many imbue with little credibility in its potential to interrogate the social and historical reasons for the developed hierarchies and transhistorical advantages accruing to particular socio-economic groups.’ The process of this prejudice stems downs from ancestors and how the previous use of black people as slaves for example is still exemplified by some to perceive they are a ‘superior’ race. Tomlinson (2007, P.307) expressed how sport is important to bring people together ‘Sport has been a major factor in breaking down racial and religious barriers… Sport can bring about a situation of oneness regardless of colour’.

To try and understand the social problems, the critical race theory (CRT) (Hylton, 2009) has become a popular academic study to establish why there is inequality. The study has focused on white supremacy and the possibility of achieving racial liberation and anti-subordination. A brief summarisation by Hylton on CRT is a (2009, P.22) ‘ Framework from which to explore and examine the racism in society that privileges whiteness as it disadvantages others because of their ‘blackness’. The theory initiated in America and was used around the time of the civil rights movement, with the problem being far more contemporary and common over there than in England. Despite laws being in place, the theory points out that white people will do anything to bypass that regulation and discourage the involvement of somebody from an ethnic minority background.

Racism In Football Topic Was Rekindled After The Suarez And Evra Incident.

Racism In Football Topic Was Rekindled After The Suarez And Evra Incident.

The idea of the theory is (WiseGEEK, 2012) ‘It looks at how racial pride in being white can manifest in acceptable ways, and how it can manifest as white superiority. Additionally, it may consider what whites can legitimately do to assist the critical examination of race, without abusing their position of power.’

Looking into racism you have to take into account somebodies social background which can help apply why they are/are not racist. Hylton talks about how sport is the same as many other social integration points (2009, p.24) ‘Societies are constituted of individuals who have internalised the dominant worldviews and hegemonic practices that have found their expression in key institutions such as education, politics, health, housing, law and the arts, and sport is not exempt from this.’

Another theory which is important when talking about racism origins is the Functionalist theory. Talcott Parsons believed (Sociology Guide, 2011) ‘that order, stability and cooperation in society are based on value consensus that is a general agreement by members of society concerning what is good and worthwhile.’

This theory explains of a divide in society – the majority and minority. The theory suggests that racism is just one way in how society works. Despite the wish for equality, there will always be a divide. Just like there are the rich and poor. Even though these classes would have been more applicable in the past, the theorists believe it still persists today in some quarters. The superior complex is the main crux of the argument here and racial differences do not seem to be the main protagonist in this theory. The believers of this model consider society acts as a whole, so when immigrants come to an area, they will have their benefits and will gradually fit into the ‘working circle’.

Importance Of Black Role Models Like Eubank Has Helped To Quash Racism

Importance Of Black Role Models Like Eubank Has Helped To Quash Racism

It is argued by Tomlinson (2007, P.144) that this theory does not work within sport, or only for an initial period ‘Sport offers forms of membership and participation in collective action and experience which may be temporarily strong but which are transient and ultimately weaker and more vulnerable than those on offer in the rest of modern culture, economy and politics’.

The functionalist theory can be used for the perhaps ‘colour-blind’ nature of football in England. Despite the perceived equality, if you look across the 92 professional clubs in the country, only two are managed by someone of ethnic minority. It was not until 2008 that the Premier League had its first black manager in Paul Ince. Should we perceive this as racism? Across the board most chairman and board of directors are white middle-class men. Perhaps with their heritage, linking in with CRT, they might have a racial prejudice stigma and sub-consciously are opposed to black managers.

A study by football journalist Oliver Holt (Mirror, 2011) looked into this suspect inequality. As of September last year ‘25% of our players are black but only 2% of our managers are.’ Ex-footballer Andrew Cole said he gave up his coaching badges because he felt he would not be given a chance. Stats like this are hard to understand, and lack of encouragement and opportunities are surely to show for this.

So what is the proposed plan to help eradicate this? The Rooney rule has been discussed in some quarters, something which has been successful since its introduction in the NFL and has the support of the public. A decade ago the league was in a similar position to the Football League and the Premier League (Channel 4, 2011) ‘While 75 per cent of American football players were black, of 32 clubs just two had black head coaches.’ The way the rule works is when a club conduct interviews for a new coach it is compulsory to interview one person of ethnic minority background. The rule has proved a success in the rise of black managers (Channel 4, 2011) ‘In seven years, a near 300 per cent increase in black head coaches.’

The only argument against this rule is it would feel like a sympathy vote. The ethnic minority coaches would be given an interview perhaps not on merit. It can also damage morale. If a club is ruled by privately racist members, even if it’s compulsory to interview you, it still will not change their mind. This could see an increase in the number of coaches retiring from lack of self-belief. The idea has for now been ruled out by the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore (Guardian, 2011) ‘We have to make sure the grassroots system in place means there are no barriers or difficulties for coaches coming through. When there are only 20 jobs, you cannot imagine filling quotas. It’s impossible.’

The way in which ethnic minorities have become such a significant part of English football is a paradox to what happened in the past. It was not until 1978 that England had their first black representative, Viv Anderson, at International level, (England Football Online, 2011) the 936th player to represent England. As expressed by Cashmore (2005, P.206) ‘Tens of thousands of young African Caribbean’s who grew up in British inner cities in the 1970s and 1980s are now reflecting on a sports career that never was.’ England could now field an entire 11 with people from ethnic backgrounds. If this had happened 20 years ago perhaps it would not have been socially accepted and fans would have questioned the lack of ‘whiteness’. Abuse players were subject too from verbal to banana throwing was psychologically damaging, yet in general the public’s perception on race is not as radical as previously was. New generations of fans, mostly well educated, have no issues anymore, unlike what would have happened in the past when it might have felt like an ‘invasion’.

The reason why these racial inequalities persist is because of a historical context. Cashmore (2005, P.216) explains how past mentalities have not altered during the generations ‘The origins of this hostility lie in the European colonial expansion of the seventeenth century. Slavery meant that white masters maintained their dominance over black slaves and so kept a rigid inequality’. Perhaps people still with racist views have those past powers at the forefront of their beliefs and struggle to accept equality. Cashmore explains ‘The inequality has been modified and lessened in the decades following emancipation, but black populations have never quite shed the remnants of their shackles and white people have passed on their colonial mentality.’ As generations pass these “shackles” will gradually wear off because perceptions have evolved.

What has helped to eradicate these views has been the success of the black athletes in all sports. From boxing champions like Frank Bruno, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank to contemporary stars like Lewis Hamilton and Rio Ferdinand, race has not become an issue like it once was. Perhaps the most logical explanation for this is because people have become more acceptant towards other ethnic backgrounds. Before it may have been seen as black people were intruding. Views like this are still prominent in the BNP’s guidelines, but in comparison to our European neighbours, England should be proud at how it changed and still wants to make a difference. Instances such as racist chanting to Mario Balotelli when he was in Italy to Roberto Carlos having a banana thrown at him show our European counterparts are going through a similar stage of evolving as we once did 30 years ago, as for them this is a new issue.

Rehman - A Rare Asian Figure In English Football

Rehman – A Rare Asian Figure In English Football

The way in which the black players are perceived in England has changed greatly. Previously it had been said by chairman that black players were important for their physical superiority but where intelligence was needed on the field, white players would be employed there. Cashmore explains why he thinks there are a lack of midfield players in the 1980’s (1982, P.177) ‘I propose that this is partly due to coaches’ and mangers’ stereotyped view of black’s intellectually capacities.’ Looking at the modern game although there are a vast amount of black players now in this position, compared to Remi Moses in the 1980’s, you would have to question if there role has changed. The standout attributes of the black players in this country is his: energy, tackling and strength. Do the same problems exist like they did in the 80’s? Cashmore also attributed this problem to the black kids and how they idolised players who generally played in positions like forwards. Perhaps the lack of true role model for this creative midfielder is the reason for the lack of creative black players here, but it would be hard to attribute this to racism. The importance of a role model is signified by Boxhill (2003,P.315) ‘The purpose of a role model is to provide an example to black people of personal success achieved within the laws and customs of the realm.’ With a lack of an idol, ethnic minority children may have been put off from pursuing a career in sport as well as the racism taunts.

A foundation which has been implemented to fight against racism is Kick It Out. As discussed by Carrington and McDonald, racism seems to on the decline in stadia (2001 , P138) ‘There is persuasive evidence that a long way has been travelled from the ‘bad days’ of the 1970s with a decline in the overall frequency, and a significant decrease in the amount of racist chanting.’ The reason for this has been the introduction of schemes such as Kick It Out which have been supported from everyone within the game. The scheme was founded in 1993 and their purpose is it (Kick It Out, 2012) ‘works throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change.’

Campaigns like these have gone a long way to turn the country around and make us frown at places like Spain and Russia which are still struggling with cultural acceptance. The situation that this country was in makes you proud to see the turn around. Take John Barnes for an example, who explains the abuse he received (Guardian, 2011) ‘In his 1980s pomp – and that’s not so long ago – he had to endure racism on a daily basis. Not just racism from opposing supporters, he stressed, but racism from inside his own team dressing room, on the training pitch and even in the players’ canteen.’

Wagg however believes that racial prejudice occurs to black players who have to adopt a “white mask” which helps blend them in with their white peers (2004, P.169) ‘This need to perform to the expectations of the white men who design the stages, and dictate the language and the social norms that define whiteness in the context of coaching qualifications, is executed by adopting the ‘white mask’.

One ethnic minority group which might have a cause for concern is the Asians. The amount of British Asians in the Premier League over the years has been scarce, with Zesh Rehman being the only one while Michael Chopra is half Indian. One club trying to address this problem is Chelsea, who run an Asian Soccer Star scheme. Children aged 8-13 attend a May bank holiday weekend trial and one winner from each age group is given a week’s training session with the club during the summer. The general attendance is encouraging with children from Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi backgrounds (Chelsea, 2010) ‘Last year’s initiative saw 350 young people attending the Cobham training ground. Two of last year’s winners have since gone to be signed by Leyton Orient and Southend. ‘

This scheme follows in the path of CRT and try’s to fight back against the lack of opportunities offered to the Asian community. Despite most of these kids never making it at Chelsea, the idea of working within the community is important to show the club understands the lack of provision and will offer opportunities while other clubs have not.

Yet the issue might be more to do with their parents rather than racial prejudices. Asian families are known strongly to favour education, and in general if they following a sporting path it will be either cricket (Monty Panesar, Ajmal Shazhad) or boxing (Amir Khan, Naseem Hamed). Perhaps the Asian parents have a bad perception of football (Daily Mail,2011) ‘Many still display similar scepticism to that initially shown by Mr and Mrs Bharma in the 2002 hit film Bend it Like Beckham – which illustrated, albeit in a light-hearted fashion, how many Asian parents perceive sport not to be a viable career path for their children.’

Rehman, who played for Fulham, had a similar ordeal as a kid, but was recommended to forget the career by his coaches. He was told (Daily Mail, 2011) ‘To take up cricket instead of football. I was told directly to my face by an FA coach that I would not make it because I had the wrong diet, was scared of the weather and that I liked cricket more than football.’ Solid evidence like this is worrying, and discrimination is clearly evident here. Seeing as this incident happed in 1994, you would presume these sorts of views were being eliminated from the game because as a country we have changed our ways. Another example of stereotyping around this time was by Sheffield United manager Dave Bassett, who argued that (Burdsey 2007, P.29) ‘the Asian build is not that of a footballer. It may well be that Asian ingredients in food, or their nutrition that they take, [are] not ideal for building up a physical frame’. Rehman however agrees to this idea after saying his mum had to change his diet to pasta after a recommendation sheet from Fulham.

The Terry Case Has Made People Questioned Whether Racism Is Still Evident Amongst The English

The Terry Case Has Made People Questioned Whether Racism Is Still Evident Amongst The English

The accusation from the higher authorities is that Asian kids would rather play in their own leagues and are not mixing with other kids, so it will be harder to get scouted. Rehman created his own foundation in 2010 to help the Asian kids have a better pathway into football. The foundation has identified there is a clear lack of representation and is hoping to make a difference (Zesh Rehman Foundation, 2012) ‘It is evident that Asian communities are still under represented at all levels of the game, as players, officials, coaches, administrators, within the media and even at grounds as supporters.’

While black people have become socially accepted, the Asian community seems to still struggle. Carrington illustrates the shift of exclusion (2010, P.150) ‘If the 1990s marks a moment of tentative inclusion for black communities in Britain, the decade when ‘there ain’t no black in the Union Jack’ begins to lose its purchase and popular hold, then the same period signals the beginnings of a new racialized subject of exclusion: the Asian Muslims.’ A lot of this is pointed to the terrorist attacks which occurred in 2005 and 9/11. People are more sceptable towards Asian people and perhaps this is why we are seeing the exclusion in sport. As Carrington points out (2010, P.15) ‘The Asian subject that was previously understood to be docile, subservient, even weak, yet potentially assimilable, and, but for tone of skin and spice of food, almost one of ‘us’, is now seen to have ‘turned’.

The feeling in the mainstream media was racism was at an all-time low. Cases had been scarce and incident involving crowds were to a minimal. Then Luis Suarez abused Patrice Evra. The Uruguayan had said (Guardian, 2012) ‘”negro” during his confrontation with Patrice Evra at Anfield and maintained he used the word once and not in the derogatory manner that resulted in an eight-match ban plus £40,000 fine for racist abuse.’ His plea of cultural differences was rubbished and was gladly punished. What would be pleasing is he is not English, so that keeps some cleanliness to our game, until John Terry was caught up in his own case. After an altercation with Anton Ferdinand he was judged to have used racist language. Now if the England captain is charged, what does that say about the state of English football? The big problem would be if he remained captain if found guilty.

Of course total eradication of racism has not occurred, and it would be hard to ever remove it completely, but the stance and the disgust against the offenders shows how dramatic the shift is. Zero-tolerance polices embodied by the FA in the Luis Suarez case go to show this discrimination is getting clamped down and if people are stupid enough to persist, you will be charged.

Looking into education is a key idea to prevent stereotyping happening. As discussed by Giulianotti, teachers would push black kids towards sport as they thought they would have natural ability while (2004, P.162) ‘teachers posses the equally racial assumption that Asians are not ‘natural’ athletes, and so discourage them from competitive sports’.

The policies in place to tackle these problems have proved to a success, and the more support they can receive can only help with the progression of a functionalist society. Personally, I think racism in this country is not a severe issue, but the problem will always persist in some capacity. Despite the recent on field problems involving specifically Liverpool, if you compare England to the rest of Europe, we have become one of the most cosmopolitan countries and are continuing to tackle discrimination through education. However there are still some issues which should be a concern, especially the lack of coaches from ethnic minority backgrounds and the perceived racial stereotypes which were highlighted by the likes of Rehman.

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The Guardian, 2012. Luis Suárez apologises but Liverpool still face criticism in race row. [online] [viewed 24 January 2012] Available from:
Tomlinson, A., 2007. The Sport Studies Reader. Oxon: Routledge
Wagg, S., 2004. British Football and Social Exclusion. Oxon: Routledge
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One response

15 04 2013
Georges Jean

The resourcefulness of this article, along with the bibliography, present an issue which relates to the relevancy of comprehending discrimination in sport, and I should concede that it took me awhile to read. I was somewhat astonished that earlier commentators did not respond to it. In essence, I believe that education is key to eradicating discrimination, which you had agreed to in this edition when you said ‘Sport can bring about a situation of oneness regardless of colour.’ Furthermore, education will prod the wisdom that sports realms are both mental and physical; neglecting this part of it, to a degree, will wane the cognitive development of an athlete; thus, confronting and resolving this stereotype will be solely through viable and practical education. I hope that those who have the onus to change discrimination and stereotyping attitudes ought to, which had begun and should continue. Great article!

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