The worldwide popular English premier league was this weekend in the spotlight not for it’s usual global entertainment, goals or the quality of football on show rather for various incidents where black players from clubs such as Manchester Uniter, Manchester City, Reading, Everton, Swansea, Queens Park Rangers and Wigan refused to wear the “Kick It Out” t-shirts. Kick it Out being a UK based organization that campaigns and works “throughout football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and work for positive change”. The campaign, which is almost twenty years in the making, has traditionally enjoyed great support and funding from the games governing bodies such as professional footballers association (PFA), the premier league and the English football association. Players have also traditionally embraced the T-shirts and the various messages they carry.
The John Terry Vs Anton Ferdinand case in which the Chelsea captain was accused (and found guilt by the FA) of having racially abused the QPR defender and what is regarded as a lenient and a “joke” fine for Mr Terry is believed to have been the core triger of distraught among some black players. For all his troubles, John Terry was only fined 220,000 pounds (understood to be his weekly wages) and banned for just four games. Furthermore, since the incident happened last year, his been allowed to play for his national team (although he has recently retired from national team duties) and his club has allowed him to continue representing them as the official club captain. Contrary, black players and some in the media now firmly believe that neither the “Kick it out” campaign nor the FA is doing enough to fight the “Racism” issue. They argue that no one is dealing with the matter on a serious, firm and consistent manner. Some point the finger to the fact that it took the FA a whole year to fine Terry as another cause of concern. They feel that more can be done to clamp down on various racist cases that has been arising throughout the English game and around Europe. This past weekend, Kick It Out chairman Mr Herman Ouseley made it worse by coming out and saying “I’m not here to represent rich black players”. Makes u wonder what money has to do with racism or the fact that players are abused! Does being “a rich black player” mean you can’t be protected by an organization tasked to protect you? Just this year alone, there has been at least 10 cases where players have been abused by fans in the stands or by their fellow professions.
Of all the players who boycotted the T-shirt, no one drew more controversy that the Manchester United defender. It was Rio’s younger brother Anton who was abused by John Terry and while it might have been expected that Rio could ditch the T-shirt, his club manager, a known notorious disciplinarian had came out and condemned any player who would refuse to follow the norm and affirmed that all his players would don the T-Shirt. Hence, it was a bold and fearless move by Rio Ferdinand when he came out the tunnel without the “Kick it out” T-shirt and as expected, his manager was seething after the game. He warned that Rio had embarrassed him and the club and that he would be dealt with; “don’t worry, he will be dealt with”. In retrospect, and after various groups came out (e.g the players association) in support of Rio and his freedom of speech not merely as a football player but also as a person; Sir Alex Ferguson was forced to take an easy stance and through his pre-match talk to the media this morning, he had the following to say.”It has been a communication problem rather than anything else. Obviously as the manager of the club when you lay down policy you don’t want to see it being ignored and that’s where my anger came on Saturday. I have listened to the conviction of Rio and I think it is quite compelling. I can understand his stance. We have resolved the problem. There’s no on-going problems and we move on.”
Talking about why he won’t be donning the now infamous t-shirt, and without mentioning the John Terry case, England raised and Nigerian international Victor Anichebe reasoned; “Are we really kicking it out? There’s a situation that’s just happened.“I believe in kicking racism out of everything, not just football — kick it out of society. “Situations have happened and I don’t feel the outcome has been just. I won’t wear the T-shirt, I don’t think it’s right to wear it. If other people want to wear it that’s their right.“I don’t want to be some poster boy for Kick Racism Out of Football. “You don’t really see the T-shirts until something happens, then we decide to wear the T-shirts.“If you wear it on a more consistent basis, fair enough. But if you just wear it when something happens, it’s pretty pointless. “I don’t think the T-shirt matters, we’re all fighting the same thing whether you wear a T-shirt or not.”
So what sort of Impact will boycotting a T-shirt bring to the racism campaign in football or to the society at large in the Uk? While some e.g QPR manager Mark Hughes argue that “they will never eliminate racism”, others see the boycott as a wake up call to the authorities to wake up and make a serious commitment to the cause. To establish a zero tolerance within the game that says if your found guilty of racist language or behaviour, you’ll be seriously dealt with. With this stance, the issue is also thrown out to the media and to society; dialogue is once again generated on how society can clamp down on the problem. Moreover, organizations involved in these matters such as the “Kick it Out” campaign will start taking players power seriously. I understand that they have already arranged a meeting with Jason Roberts who was one of the first players to come out and say that he will boycott the t-shirt. In my books, these can only be good for the game and for everyone in the society. Finally, sources in the British media confirmed today that Rio Ferdinand and other prominent black footballers (retired/active) in Europe/UK are in advanced talks of revolutionizing the game by forming an association of black professional players to observe and protect the interest of all minority professionals involved in the game. As someone who has in the past regarded professional athletes, musicians and other Black (minority) celebrities who are signed to athletics clubs, record companies or media outlets as voiceless simply because their views have to go through their employers public relations office; There’s new hope that things are indeed
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