Thursday, November 18, 2004

18 November 2004: Racism

About fifteen minutes from the end of last night's Spain-England 'friendly' (in which, by the way, the first-choice England team - Gerrard apart - were quite dreadful), BBC radio commentator Alan Green said he had had enough of the racist 'monkey' chants, and that he had a solution. The next time the ball went out of play, he said, the England players should just walk off the pitch and refuse to come back on unless the chanting stopped. Such an action, he said, would "force FIFA's hand."

And the hand should be forced. England have already made an official complaint to both UEFA and FIFA, and both bodies will launch an investigation into the goings-on. And no doubt the Spanish Football Association will be fined a few hundred pounds and given a non-specific warning about their future conduct, and the problem will continue as if nothing had happened. Meantime, Ashley Cole was forced off the pitch, having to be replaced during that second-half period as he seemed to completely lose his rag as the chants towards him intensified.

So for once I agree with Alan Green. FIFA's hand should be forced. Teams should have the right to refuse to play in front of such a crowd. Even if Green's past record on the racism issue leaves something to be desired, he is right on this one. As long as national football associations face only fines and dressing-downs, the problem will continue. If players refuse to play, the issue will be forced and FIFA would have to decide: do they back the striking players or do they condone racism?

It's the same issue that faced the ICC over Zimbabwe, of course, and the ICC in their wisdom came down on the side of the racists. (For the record, Zimbabwe sacked their fifteen top white players because they were white, and earlier rebel players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga now live as political refugees in the UK. So no racism there, then.) The ECB were unable to simply refuse to take their players on the forthcoming Zimbabwe tour as the ICC threatened to throw England out of international cricket, and thus bankrupt the game in England. (Blackmail's as legal as racism, right?)

The Zimbabwe problem, of course, goes far far deeper than cricket, and it shouldn't be up to the England cricket XI make the point that Mugabe's regime is as bad as South Africa's old apartheid policy. But it's all about who you are and what your agenda is. Zimbabwe is a real issue for England cricketers because, in touring, they effectively say they are happy to play with a racist organisation (the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, in this case). The British government, conversely, is too busy in Iraq and Afghanistan to take notice of certain other regimes in the world whose conduct and human rights violations at least match the worst of Saddam's atrocities (I'm thinking specifically of Darfur here). If we can justify an invasion of Iraq based on, at best, shaky intelligence, then why aren't we doing something about the worst of the racist, genocidal governments elsewhere in the world?

Answer: we're too busy preparing to sort out Iran next, no matter what Jack Straw says. Best leave issues of nationally-entrenched racism to sports people.

Footnote: William Gibson's blog of Weds 17 November makes a fascinating note of the primary reason as to why, in 'the previous iteration of the rural American south', evolution was so hated as a theory: it meant that blacks and whites had a common ancestor. The fact that it implied (pretty much required) the non-existence of an involved Creator was merely convenient. Sounds amazing, but Gibson is the horse's mouth on this one: this was where he grew up.

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