The FA: Kicking Racism Out of Football?

Alex StampCorrespondent IDecember 8, 2008

On Tuesday, Middlesbrough striker Mido went public with allegations about racist abuse he received from Newcastle fans. The striker, speaking to an Egyptian website, claimed: "They kept chanting disgusting words—racist words about Islam—and, unfortunately, this is the second time that the same fans have done this.

"It happened again because, after the first time, the English FA did nothing. I considered this as an invitation from the English FA to the Newcastle supporters to repeat such shameful acts.

"I can assure you that nothing is going to happen this time again. The English FA said that they will be investigating the issue and will make use of the latest technology to stop such racist abuse of players, but I feel that nothing will happen.

"I am asking the English FA to take serious action to stop such things. These chants are not directed at me as a person but it is directed at Islam."

While the FA and Newcastle have taken action against two fans, and both have been arrested, the fact that Mido had to go public with these allegations in order for the matter to come to light is rather worrying.

The fact that the FA's response only came after Mido had made these allegations speaks volumes, especially as this was the second time that he has been racially abused within a year by Newcastle fans.

For an organisation that proclaims to crackdown on racism in British football, the response has been rather lenient, with little action being taken against the club, Newcastle, and with only two fans being arrested this time, while no action at all was taken last year.

Bearing in mind the context and the racial make up of British football at this time, this sort of leniency is worrying.

The FA have claimed for a long time that they are clamping down vigorously on racism in British football. Through vigorous campaigning there is no doubt that from the nadir of anti-racist barracking from the terraces in the 1980s (remember the poignant image of John Barnes kicking bananas off the pitch) things have certainly improved.

However, it would be a foolish notion to suggest that this has led to the complete eradication of racism, for football often reflects society, and no-one would dare suggest that society has reached some sort of utopian ideal with regard to equal opportunities and race relations.

A quick look across the professional football leagues reinforces this viewpoint. Race relations have undoubtedly improved in the area of Afro-Caribbeans in football.

The ugly terrace chants and racial stereotyping of players and managers has declined, and this season saw the first Afro-Caribbean English manager being appointed in the Premier League—a watershed moment.

However, the progress in this area has yet to be backed up by significant progress in other ethnic minorities. For example, there is a fundamental lack of British-Asian players playing at the top level, and even fewer officials and managers.

When we consider that this is currently one of the most socially mobile and expanding ethnic minorities within British society then this is a worrying trend. The fact is that there still remains a lack of opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds in the top football leagues.

I am not arguing that the FA has stated that they have totally eradicated racism, or in fact that they are deliberately targeting or ignoring these groups of people. The fact is that, one of the best ways by which the FA can make a significant statement to these groups is by taking a proactive stance on racism, and especially on the type of racist abuse which Mido had to endure.

Yet while the FA continues to hand out petty punishments, and refuse to take a hard-line against racists in our game, then how can they hope to encourage equal opportunities in our national sport.

The fact is that regardless of how the FA dress it up, football is still not a game of equal opportunities, and the fundamental lack of players, officials, and managers from different ethnic minorities is a damning statistic that proves this point.

Unfortunately, until the FA takes a harder line on both fans and players, in order to eradicate attitudes like those shown by those two fans last Saturday, then this statistic is unlikely to change in the near future.