On Thursday, October 18, England’s Kick It Out began a “week of action,” asking Premier League players to support their fight against racism in soccer. Those participating will put on Kick It Out t-shirts before soccer matches so that more people will get a chance to see the group’s message and understand that racism will not be tolerated.
Several teams united behind the campaign, including Arsenal and United, with Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in particular praising the attempts by the English soccer league office to fight against racism.
A native of France who has managed Arsenal since 1996, Wenger admitted that it isn’t an easy problem to solve, but gave credit for the FA’s “consistent behavior to fight [racism] every year” and their unwillingness to let even big-name players display racist behaviors without facing severe repercussions. “There are some countries,” he said, “where they don’t do [anything],” but in England “they tackle the problem. They don’t hide behind it.”
Of course, it would be nearly impossible to hide after the events of the past year in English soccer, which saw several racist incidents occur that involved well-respected players and got a lot of public interest.
Manchester United’s Patrice Evra had racial slurs directed at him by Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, leading to the latter’s eight-game ban. Serbian fans recently abused England’s Danny Rose at an under-21 international. And then there is the matter of Chelsea’s John Terry.
Last October, the 31-year-old team captain allegedly hurled racial epithets at Anton Ferdinand of the Queens Park Rangers during a league match. The whole thing snowballed to become the most high-profile incident of racism in the game over the past year with both a criminal case and an investigation by the league.
Terry consistently denied the allegations, and was cleared of criminal charges, but admitted to using a racial slur in response to Ferdinand’s accusations.
There was such a firestorm of activity surrounding him that in September he retired from the England national team, saying his position had been made “untenable” by the FA. He did, however, keep his position with Chelsea, and just recently he was given a four-game ban and fined 220,000 pounds ($353,000), which he decided not to contest.
Despite this, Chelsea manager Roberto di Matteo allowed Terry to stay on as team captain. Moreover, his suspension only affects domestic games, so he’ll be able to play in Champions League matches while still technically being punished.
Partially due to seeming inconsistencies like that, a number of players declined to wear the Kick It Out t-shirts in protest – including Anton Ferdinand, his older brother Rio Ferdinand of Manchester United, and Reading’s Jason Roberts.
Roberts specifically released a statement saying that he won’t take part because he doesn’t believe the group has done enough to punish racist behavior. The refusal is particularly damning coming from Roberts, who has always been vocal about speaking out against racism.
Some managers expressed frustration with their players, with Manchester’s Alex Ferguson even suggesting Rio Ferdinand might be disciplined. But the chairman of the Pro Footballer’s Association – the organization that partially funds Kick It Out – defended the players’ right to free speech, although he said that he thinks “joining in with the campaign is the best way forward.”
On this he agrees with Ferguson, who said that “everyone should be united,” and he doesn’t think that speaking out against a group working to improve race relations is the way to go.
About the author: Earl Reidlen has covered the sports industry for many years and has developed a wealth of knowledge over those years. When he isn’t writing, you can find Earl covering M.Putterman, a tennis windscreen supplier.
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