Offside, 25 November

Sanctimonious jeering at Spaniards won't tackle racism.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Should the England players have walked off the pitch in Madrid last week? Yes they should – not in protest at the monkey chants, but because they were playing so abysmally. Never mind the monkey chants where were the donkey chants?

Rio Ferdinand has said he was ready to walk. ‘I don’t think anybody back in England or on the England team would have blamed us’, said the Manchester United defender. FIFA president Sepp Blatter has said he would have supported the England players walking off. Indeed FIFA may soon sanction such protests. ‘If such incidents happen during the match, and in such a manner as we witnessed the other day in the Bernabeu Stadium, then walking off could be a possibility’, said Blatter.

If FIFA does give its blessing to footballers downing boots against racism it could open a can of worms. At what point does it become legitimate to walk off? Last Saturday Birmingham City striker Dwight Yorke was subjected to racial abuse from two spectators. Is this sufficient abuse to justify a team walking off? It seems disproportionate, yet individual fans can be prosecuted for racist chanting ‘whether alone or in concert with others’ under current football legislation.

Perhaps there should be a minimum threshold of, say, 25 per cent of fans engaged in chanting, before a walk off is permissible. But this might be difficult to judge as anyone familiar with the audience vote in Ready Steady Cook will tell you. Maybe there be should an official noise limit – the equivalent of bad light in cricket – which is measured by a monkey gruntometer. ‘Clive, the fourth official is checking the sound meter and, yes, the players are coming off. Racism stopped play.’

Actually, forget the gruntometer, someone should invent a device to measure intolerable levels of sanctimony – let’s call it a pecksniffometer. The British media reaction to the events in Madrid would have sent pecksniffometer levels soaring. Sanctimony readings could be incorporated into the weather forecast. ‘It will be a damp and overcast day with occasional light drizzle and scattered outbreaks of sanctimony in some parts of the country, particularly in Wapping.’

In the absence of such a gadget I’ve always found that a simple rule of thumb works well. I call it the Alan Green Test. If Radio Five Live’s senior football commentator Alan Green gets worked up into a moralistic lather about an issue I’m instinctively inclined to take the diametrically opposite view. For example, if Greenie starts fulminating about the ‘shocking and disgraceful events at Old Trafford’ you can be sure that what actually took place was a harmless but highly entertaining food fight that most of us would have paid good money to watch.

Last week, when I heard Green ranting and raving about how ‘fines are not enough’ and how ‘Gary Neville was right’, I knew straightaway that the ‘something’ which ‘must be done’ was probably not the right thing to do. Much as I abhor racism, the unadulterated cant of British hacks lecturing Johnny Foreigner about racial etiquette is too much for me to stomach. Until Britain stops treating immigrants and asylum seekers as criminals then it has no moral authority to tell the Spanish how to behave.

I’ve been to the Bernabau myself and heard 70,000 Madrilenos jeering a black player and it wasn’t a pleasant experience I can assure you. But the trouble with the whole debate about Spanish racism is that none of the measures proposed – players walking off the pitch, making Spain play home games behind closed doors, docking World Cup qualifying points, and so on – goes to the root of the problem. Racism is fundamentally about the unequal treatment of black people whereas racial chants and monkey grunts are just symptoms of that problem. And you can’t eradicate social problems by only treating the football-related symptoms.

In Britain the obnoxious racist taunts endured by black players in the 1970s and 80s were not eradicated by rules and regulations, most of which were only put in place after terrace racism had declined. There were two contributory factors: black footballers won over white fans by their performances on the pitch while, at the same time, black people were becoming more integrated in British society.

If we want to see an end to the monkey chants in Spanish football it will not be achieved by taking disciplinary action against the Spanish – racism cannot be punished out of existence. Rather it will require Spanish society itself to change and that won’t be achieved by FIFA sanctions, hectoring British journalists, or footballers walking off the pitch in a strop.

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Topics Politics


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