English Premier League, Clubs Must Get Serious About Fighting Racism

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English Premier League, Clubs Must Get Serious About Fighting Racism
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Sometimes the truth can hurt, and sometimes, it can set you free. For the scandal-ravaged realm of English football, a bit of straight talk from one vocal critic might just do both.

On Monday, English newspaper The Guardian published an exclusive interview with Lord Herman Ouseley, a British parliamentarian and the chairman of the anti-racism initiative Kick It Out. In the article, Lord Ouseley had harsh words for a couple of major English clubs and the national football hierarchy itself.

Frankly, they were exactly the sort of thing English football and its clubs need to hear.

Lord Ouseley criticized the Football Assocation and the Premier League, as well as Premier League clubs Chelsea and Liverpool, for their lack of "morality" and "leadership" on the issue of racism. He pointed to high-profile incidents involving Chelsea's John Terry and Liverpool's Luis Suarez and blasted the clubs and authorities for wasting the last year in "hypocrisy."

Clearly, Lord Ouseley is not concerned about making friends. But for those who followed the cases of Terry and Suarez with an open mind over the past year, it's equally clear that Ouseley is correct.

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Terry drew a four-match ban and hefty fine in September for his role in an incident with Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand from the previous October (via BBC Sport). Terry also stood trial in a magistrate's court but was cleared of the charge.

Chelsea later disciplined the club captain as well, but neither the FA's nor Chelsea's punishment stopped Terry from playing for England at Euro 2012 while Ferdinand's brother Rio sat at home. That sent the wrong message to all players, according to Lord Ouseley.

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Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand, right, has talked about starting a new union for black players.

"That hurt the black players the most," he said. "They could see nobody speaking up for them, and the establishment seemed to be looking after its favourites."

It's also why we've seen Rio talk about a new union for black players and why we've seen him and others refuse to wear anti-racism T-shirts (which, incidentally, are part of Kick It Out's program). Talk is cheap, and T-shirts with high-minded but ultimately inconsequential slogans cost even less.

Suarez drew an eight-match ban for his role in an incident with Manchester United defender Patrice Evra last October. Instead of condemning racism, former manager Kenny Dalglish backed Suarez, and the players wore T-shirts that depicted the Uruguayan as a victim.

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Alarmingly, that incident seems to have led to a misguided new initiative in England. According to BBC Sport, English football authorities are considering whether to implement cultural lessons for foreign players in an effort to combat racism.

On its face, this seems like a decent idea: Who wouldn't want to fight racism? The problem is that cultural lessons for foreign players wouldn't have prevented the Terry incident. Terry is English, and the proposed program does not mention English players at all.

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It's possible that this is an oversight, but it's also possible that we should take this another way. Lord Ouseley all but accused English football of playing favorites, and this new proposal seems to fit in with that line of thinking.

If the men of power in English football want to make a serious effort to combat racism, that effort must begin with a glance in the mirror. In the past year, English football has regressed in this area instead of progressing.

England is not the only national association dealing with these problems, of course. Racism remains a blight on football around the world. But the world has always expected more out of England, and England should always expect to serve as a leader in issues like these.

In this instance, England, the FA and the Premier League have not led. It's as simple as that.

As Lord Ouseley would no doubt argue, the time has long passed for English football to take racism seriously. Unfortunately, as yet another year ends, we're still waiting.

 

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