Dave Bowler asks if English Football is doing enough for Racial Equality.
The Premier League is back but much of the action seems to have taken place off the field as we wrestle again with the thorny issue of whether sport and politics should mix. It is, as ever, complicated.
The blanket support for Black Lives Matter, with players wearing that rather than their names on the backs of their shirts and all of them, and the match officials, taking the knee just before kick-off has raised some controversy.
On the face of it, it looks pretty simple. It’s a good cause, the right cause, so surely it should be supported, all the more so in a country where the current Foreign Secretary, holder one of the three great Offices of State in the UK, seems to believing that taking the knee is something to do with “Game of Thrones’ – no, really.
Some have protested that football should stick to just providing entertainment and perhaps there is something in that. Maybe we do all need a little escape from politics, a little oasis.
Maybe. But in times like these, don’t you think that particular privilege has passed for the moment? Isn’t this really a time for being engaged, for standing up for what you believe, for being able to say what you think? Individuals being free to make their stand, that can only be right can’t it? But that’s where the real complication comes in. When individuals take a stand, that’s powerful. When organisations do it, you’re required to look a little more closely at their motives.
The fact that all the players and officials are essentially being required to take the knee by an organisation whose clubs love a virtuous gesture but aren’t so hot on actually, you know, doing much about issues, does create mixed emotions – and here, I should make it clear that this does not relate to the fantastic work that their community arms do. Yes, it’s great that the message gets out there but are they really offering up anything more than a bit of public relations?
Racial Discrimination In Football
The football pitch is the place of the ultimate meritocracy. The clubs don’t care if you’re black, white or green if you can score the goal that wins the title or make the save that staves off relegation. But in 40 and more years of black footballers making their mark on the playing fields of England, it is realistic to believe that none but the merest handful have had the credentials to be managers and coaches? In a world where Alan Pardew and Mark Hughes keep getting work? Honestly?
And why is it that hardly any of the boardrooms of England have opened their doors to black men and women as directors? Go to the back offices of the majority of our football clubs, look at the administrators, the media, the accountants and see how many black faces you see. Precious few.
The only time you really see black faces away from the dressing room – when the kitchen doors open and the waiters and waitresses come out to serve on tables in the executive suites and boxes. That’s real symbolism for you and it makes this stance problematic. While the raising of awareness is good, getting out of the glasshouses wouldn’t hurt either.