I drove all night.
Well, actually that’s not true, but it sounds more dramatic. I actually drove for three quarters of an hour, but it was dark. Mrs. Snowolf and I went to the O2 last night to see the wonderful Muse.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a gig review, although they were very, very good and the O2 is a superb venue. Whilst we were driving the short distance back to the Garden of England I decided I wanted a rest from loud music so I put Radio 5 on, and an article on the show that was being broadcast quite amazed me.
The discussion (brief as it was) centred around the problem in the recent high profile racism cases in football – the Luis Suarez affair, the whole John Terry/Ferdinand brothers thing, the appalling behaviour of players, officials and supporters of Serbia in the recent U21 international versus England, and latterly the decision made by a number of players to shun the ‘Kick It Out’ anti-racism campaign in protest at the perceived inaction from the governing bodies over the problem.
To an extent I have sympathy with the players who have turned their back on Kick It Out. Recent sanctions taken against players and national associations leave you under no impression as to what the real priorities are. A Danish international was recently fined €100,000 for displaying the name of one of his personal sponsors on the waistband of his underwear whilst playing in a tournament. Meanwhile racist chanting by fans of Roman club Lazio directed at players of Tottenham Hotspur resulted in a fine (from UEFA, the same organisation who fined the Danish player for his underpants guerrilla advertising) of £32,000.
The message seems to be clear and it seems from this evidence that the governing bodies are much more concerned about their flagship competitions being harmed by ambush marketing than they are about them taking place against a backdrop of racist chanting, monkey noises and missile throwing. So yes, when Rio Ferdinand (for all his faults, and he has many) throws the strop and decides he doesn’t want to wear the campaign t-shirt, then yes, I’m inclined to agree with him.
In English football the FA take a much sterner line. Following Luis Suarez’s FA disciplinary for racist abuse of a fellow player, he found himself on the receiving end of an eight game ban and a £40,000 fine. Crucially though the fine amounted to less than half a week’s wages and the former Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, made a terrible PR gaffe when he sent his side out to warm up before a match wearing t-shirts in support of their teammate. John Terry in his recent brush with the FA, having admitted to using racist language against Anton Ferdinand received a four match ban and a £220,000 fine, he was also subject to confidential disciplinary action from his club.
So there’s the background. However it is clear that the problem persists. It’s not surprising when the fines, even for Terry, don’t match a fortnight’s wages. So where do we go? How does football tackle this problem?
The question was put on the radio last night ‘is it time for racist abuse to constitute gross misconduct?’ I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Now, I am a football fan, but find my ardour cooling as I get older, mainly due to episodes and attitudes such as this, but I found myself flabbergasted that this isn’t accepted as gross misconduct already. Really, can you think of any other job where racially abusing someone at work would not result in instant dismissal?
What we have is a collection of young men who, because of the wages they are paid, coupled with the level of fine in comparison to those wages and the obvious HR practices which seem to date back to the 1950′s, feel as if they are untouchable.
The fault lies in both the behaviour of the players and the clubs.
Any business that allows its employees to act in such a fashion is in trouble. Now, if I were the MD of Wolfers’ Widgets Ltd and one of my employees acted in such a fashion, his feet wouldn’t touch. If a player at Crapchester Albion racially abused his counterpart from another club, and Crapchester Albion were sponsored by Goliath Widgets PLC, my next advert would go along the lines of ‘Buy Wolfers’ Widgets, never knowingly associated with or putting money in the pocket of nasty little racist shits.’
The sponsors, both of clubs and competitions need to demand action, because you can bet your bottom that they don’t want to be associated with it, it is image suicide. Look how quickly the sponsors dropped Lance Armstrong, and all he did was cheat, I don’t think he ever abused a cyclist as his turbo-powered drug fuelled legs propelled him past.
And yes, sack the players. I’d get sacked for it, you’d get sacked for it. Jesus, even the boss of RBS would get sacked for it. Why not these pampered little arseholes?
Well, one argument was that if you sack a player, you have to cancel his registration as well. This means that a world class player is then free to go and sign for one his club’s competitors.
OK, well firstly, if I’m the MD of Goliath Widgets PLC, I’m calling the chairman of the football club looking at signing the player and saying ‘it is of course your club, and you must sign who you see fit, but my business will not be associated with this man, so if he signs for you our sponsorship deal is finished forthwith.’
Secondly, hit the players with real bans. First offence, half the season. Second offence, the whole season. Third offence, life. It is the only way.
Finally, the supporters have a role to play. They are the first to complain when one of their players is abused by opposition supporters, but the blind support I saw for both Suarez and Terry from Liverpool and Chelsea supporters was staggering. The vitriol being poured out to the FA for having the temerity to investigate their player, let alone charge and discipline him, was shocking. It was all a mis-understanding, it was a conspiracy, he didn’t mean it, it’s a fit-up. Whatever.
The supporters need to make it plain to the board that runs their club that they will not tolerate it. By and large they wouldn’t tolerate it from their brethren on the terraces (and thank God that there was genuine shock at the behaviour of the Serb supporters – that was us twenty years ago), and they should not tolerate it from their players. Supporters have booed plenty of players out of a club for other reasons before now, perhaps they should be booing these guys out of their ground on the basis of behaving in a nasty racist fashion as well?