When is a remark racist? When spoken by a foreigner
The fight against racism in football has not been helped by the savaging of Suarez, Dalglish and Liverpool, writes DAVID ADAMS
‘IS CALLING someone a ‘black c***’ racist? Spoke to a black player today who said racism is words like c**n, n-word, w**, etc. Don’t know.” This crass query was posted on Twitter less than two months ago. It refers to what the England and Chelsea football captain, John Terry, has admitted calling QPR’s Anton Ferdinand during a premiership game last October.
Terry will appear in court next month, charged with a racially motivated public order offence. He insists that his remarks were taken out of context, and must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. The tweeter, however, appears to suggest that Terry’s outburst might not be racist at all, regardless of context.
Worryingly, the tweet was posted by the chief sports writer of the Daily Mirror, Oliver Holt (who has authored two books on Terry, under the pen names, Ollie and Oliver Derbyshire). Strange that a journalist, of all people, is not entirely clear on what constitutes racism. Stranger still that Holt and his newspaper, along with most of the rest of the British media, have of late been adopting what they imagine to be a high-minded, zero-tolerance approach to this issue.
They have been relentless in condemning Liverpool’s Uruguayan player, Luis Suarez, after he was found guilty by the English FA of “racially abusing” the Manchester United footballer Patrice Evra, by referring to him as “negro”. Aside from the fact that Evra’s South American team mates at Manchester United also call him Negro, I would have thought this word to be far less offensive than what Terry has admitted shouting at Ferdinand.
Increasingly, the media has also been savaging Liverpool and its manager, Kenny Dalglish, for continuing to insist that Suarez is innocent. Oliver Holt went so far as to suggest in a column last Saturday that their support for Suarez makes Dalglish and Liverpool partially culpable for a racist insult directed at a young Oldham player at Anfield the previous night.
Self-evidently, Holt et al believe that Suarez and Liverpool have no right to question an FA ruling. This is another strange position for journalists to adopt. They, of all people, should realise that even a proper court can get it wrong, never mind the FA’s “kangaroo court”, as Everton manager David Moyes recently described it. The FA secures a conviction rate of 99.5 per cent, as Irish sports lawyer (and Liverpool fan) Stuart Gilhooley has pointed out.
An unnamed sports lawyer has told the BBC that the FA acts as “police, judge and jury all rolled into one”. No wonder Suarez, his club and its supporters are up in arms.
Undeterred, the British media is presenting the FA’s handling of the Suarez affair as a shining example of best practice, while doing all it can to shift attention away from the finer details and on to the broader issue of racism. This involves making pantomime villains of Suarez, Dalglish and Liverpool.
In truth, even before the case was heard, the bulk of the media had made plain its position. Suarez was never afforded the same innocent-until-proven-guilty treatment that John Terry has (rightly) enjoyed.
From the moment Evra’s complaint emerged, hardly a day passed without it being highlighted. Yet within days of John Terry being charged, sportswriters and football commentators were commending the Chelsea captain for a “courageous performance”, “despite the pressures he is playing under”.
Suarez was fined €48,500 and banned for eight games by the FA. Somewhat conveniently, Terry was reported to the police by “a member of the public” and shuffled off to a criminal court where the evidential threshold for conviction is massively higher than that of the FA, and the maximum possible penalty decidedly lower (€2,500).
I am not a disinterested observer, having supported Liverpool for more than 40 years. But then, who is? (Lord) Herman Ouseley and Piara Powar, two of the most vocal and widely quoted critics of Suarez, Dalglish and Liverpool, and strident supporters of the FA’s ruling, are both invariably described by the media only as anti-racism campaigners. That the first is also a member of the FA and on the board of the Manchester United Foundation (Evra’s club), and the second is a director of the Chelsea Foundation (Terry’s club), is never mentioned.
Why has a basic tenet of good journalistic practice, highlighting possible conflicts of interest, been dispensed with? Ultimately, the FA has scored some imaginary political point against Fifa’s Sepp Blatter; anti-racism campaigners have had their (extremely important) issue raised to stratospheric heights; and the British media has been able to flaunt its supposed anti-racist credentials. That the reputation of a “Johnny Foreigner” has been destroyed in the process, and a great football club and its manager tarnished, is unfortunate. But at least it wasn’t an England captain.