Cultural lessons for overseas players?

Forget the FA’s patronising tips - our columnist tells foreign footballers what they really need to know about Britain.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

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Foreign players and coaches are set to receive cultural lessons as part of a concerted drive by the football authorities to tackle racism. You what? Sounds like a wind up, doesn’t it? A Chris Morris spoof. Or an edict from the Ministry of Silly Social Engineering Schemes.

But this isn’t a joke. It’s a serious proposal. ‘Up until now we have had cultural-awareness courses for our apprentices and the plan now is to extend these to senior players and coaches, including those coming from overseas’, explained Professional Footballers Association (PFA) chairman Gordon Taylor. ‘We want to make sure there is no misunderstanding with regards to the rules and regulations on discrimination.’ The plans have been drawn up by the PFA, the Football Association (FA) and the Football League in response to criticism that the authorities had been too soft in their handling of the Luis Suarez and John Terry racial-abuse incidents.

So, what exactly is the problem that the cultural lessons are intended to solve? The obvious example is Luis Suarez’s use of the word ‘negrito’, which he claimed was not intentionally pejorative. But beyond the Suarez case, where is the evidence that a) racial abuse on the pitch is widespread or b) that cultural sensitivity will make things better? There is no evidence that racial abuse on the pitch is widespread, let alone that foreign players are particularly culpable. The Premiership is awash with overseas players but allegations of racial abuse are as rare as a sausage roll at a Bar Mitzvah. As I wrote on spiked recently, football is one of the few genuinely colour-blind industries. The ‘problem’ – if we can even call it a problem – consists of a handful of isolated incidents that have been blown spectacularly out of proportion.

The idea that racism is a product of ignorance is, moreover, a lazy multiculturalist fallacy which serves to keep diversity consultants and trainers in business. It obscures the powerful political and social roots of inequality and racist political ideas and, instead, effectively heaps the blame on stupid white proles. To believe you can educate inequality out of existence is as wrongheaded as the notion that forcing immigrants to learn English or pass citizenship tests can facilitate integration.

What exactly will be taught in these cultural-awareness classes? Will foreign players have to learn by rote the key tenets of the Macpherson Report? Will they be required to watch endless re-runs of Desmond’s? Or asked to act out racial scenarios and explore their feelings in group therapy discussions? I shudder to think. Nevertheless, in the spirit of ‘we’re all in it together’, here are my top tips for foreign players on how to acclimatise to British culture.

  1. There is no such thing as a private conversation. When you pass through UK border control, you should leave behind old-fashioned notions, such as the sanctity of the dressing room or ‘what’s said on the pitch stays on the pitch’. Britain has changed. The old distinction between public ‘on the record’ speech and private conversations on the pitch or in the dressing room has been eroded. What’s said in the dressing room or on the pitch will be leaked to the press and spread virally via Twitter within hours. Players now need to be on guard at all times. They should consider themselves in a perpetual state of police caution. Careless taunts in the heat of battle may be reported and used in evidence against them. And if your slighted opponent doesn’t report you to the police or the FA, the Society of Black Lawyers will take offence on his behalf.
  2. British players can’t take an insult. If you thought that British footballers were tough and manly and were able to withstand a bit of name-calling, you’re wrong. This may have been true in the past. But the resilient ‘stiff upper lip’ has gone. British culture is now thin-skinned and easily offended. Name-calling is no longer classed as ‘banter’; it’s a hate crime. If you insult an opponent, don’t expect him to ignore it. Will he punch you? Probably not. British footballers today are way too soft for an old-fashioned ‘man conversation’ – to borrow a phrase from Ukraine coach Oleg Blokhin. Expect your opponents to run crying to the officials or the police.
  3. Never feign a physical injury. Overseas players need to learn that diving and feigning injury is still frowned upon in Britain. Everyone else in the world sees cheating as no more harmful than time-wasting or handling the ball. The British, however, view cheating in sport as immoral. The British believe in the quaint notion that sport is the glue that holds the entire social fabric together. If you ‘go to ground too easily’, the whole of Western civilisation will unravel as a consequence. It’s a frankly absurd ethos which was invented by nineteenth-century public-school teachers, but violate it and you risk vilification. This taboo only applies, however, to physical injuries. It’s perfectly acceptable to feign an emotional injury. If you’ve been insulted, it’s advisable to claim that you’ve been traumatised. Public weeping is fine, too. Forget all that stuff about sticks and stones. In modern therapeutic Britain, it’s names that hurt. A lot.
  4. Don’t abuse ‘our’ blacks. Racial insults are much more shocking to British ears than traditional sexual or religious slurs. The n-word is verboten. It’s best to avoid using the term ‘choc ice’. And never use the word ‘yid’. Even if you are a Jewish Spurs fan, you’re not allowed to use it. It doesn’t matter if nobody is offended; the Society of Black Lawyers will be on your case. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to complain that there are too many foreigners in British football. This might, on the surface, appear to be a chauvinistic sentiment. But nobody will punish you for expressing these ideas. Whisper it, we think that foreign players are overpaid, overacting and over here. Your dirty foreign habits – spitting, theatrical tumbles and waving imaginary cards – are corroding traditional British fair play. We celebrate diversity, albeit with the exception of badge-kissing foreign mercenaries who are denying opportunities to ‘our’ young players. In fact, we’d happily impose quotas on foreign players if the EU would let us.

In short, Señor Carlos Kickaball, if you keep your head down, refrain from insulting ‘our’ blacks and play by our rules, we’ll welcome you with open arms.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter @DuleepOffside.

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Topics Politics


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