Someone must’ve been scratching their head immensely in that glass-wielded complex lying on a wooded hill in Zurich. In what is also known as the FIFA Headquarters, angry and confused murmurs could probably be heard echoing all around after the allegations regarding racism in England in general and Liverpool FC in specific over the past couple of weeks surfaced. Just as things were smoothing out, another incident today raised eyebrows.
FIFA has its failings, but there’s certainly no denying the fact that they’re trying genuinely to address the crucial issue of racism in the world of football. It’s not always easy changing a culture or education of spectators and dare I say nations around the world. From passing the Buenos Aires Resolution in 2001 to initiating various campaigns (Say No to Racism), celebrities joining in the fight and amending the FIFA Disciplinary codes (Article 55), it’s a shame racism is still lurking around – especially in a sporting developed country like the UK. Liverpool Football Club has also taken strides in the past in their bid to fight racism. The Official Liverpool website has a whole page dedicated to anti-racism. There’s no denying that Liverpool FC have taken measures to address this critical issue, but the way the club has handled the recent allegations risks tarnishing this image. The defect of racism may be slimming down, but it’s certainly heated up over the past couple of days/weeks.
In the FA Cup game today between Manchester United and Liverpool, Patrice Evra was booed throughout game by the Anfield crowd ever so vigorously, a consequence to the now infamous Evra versus Suarez incident. The verdict was out and Suarez was denounced and given an 8-match ban by the FA. The release of the FA investigation shed light on details that further indicted the Uruguayan. The boos that echoed around Anfield every time Evra touched the ball weren’t the only noticeable issues around the stadium. Police are now investigating allegations that a Liverpool fan made a racist gesture during the game today. A picture of a man imitating a monkey has been circulating around social media outlets which led to police rechecking the match tapes. Today’s incident came just two weeks after Tom Adeyemi – Oldham’s young defender – broke down in tears in the game between Liverpool and Oldham in the FA Cup after being racially abused by a section of the crowd in the Kop. These three incidents of racial abuse marred Liverpool’s reputation among football fans worldwide, and also as a club that supposedly has a zero tolerance policy towards racism. What’s making it a tad bit worse is how the club, the supporters and the manager are handling the situation. It’s all in good intentions I’m sure, but the way it’s coming out unintentionally mars the club’s reputation, even if the average Liverpool fanatic won’t admit it.
The first bit of a knee-jerk reaction came after Suarez’s 8-game ban in addition to a £40,000 fine. Kenny Dalglish and the Liverpool players donned t-shirts bearing Suarez’s image in support of the player. This provoked criticism from various entities, current and ex-players. Don’t get me wrong, staff, fans and players should always stick together, but the message conveyed through the t-shirts seemed to support the act of racism. By supporting a ‘guilty’ player accused of racism, you’re directly supporting racism. It would have been certainly better for the club to come out with a balanced supporting statement, as they did, and for the manager and players to come out wearing anti-racism shirts instead of player specific ones. This would have enhanced Liverpool’s image as a club that’s fighting for a critical cause like zero tolerance for racism instead of being viewed as a club that’s supporting its players, regardless of disciplinary issues.
Liverpool fans argue that this whole mix-up was due to a culture clash. In this case, Liverpool as a club have a duty to further investigate those claims internally with Suarez, for if it indeed turns out to be a case of a player not being culturally aware, then this is the fault of the management at the club. They should’ve educated Suarez about racism in the UK, given their claims and efforts of kicking racism out of football. In that they have failed him. On the other hand, if they had already explained that to him, and he has indeed spurted out that racial slur, then more aggressive measures have to be taken, club first, FA second, against him. That’s from the club’s view. As for Kenny and the players, they came out with all guns blazing in support of Suarez, who I need to make clear, was publically denounced guilty, further confusing the borders between supporting a cause and supporting your player. In my humble opinion, a word of support for Suarez in a pre-match conference was sufficient to ‘limit’ the damages. You can’t fault managers and players publically supporting one of their own, but there’s an extent.
Both Kenny and Steven Gerrard came out defending themselves and their reactions first and asserting the fact that racism and discrimination is not tolerated. Both talked about Manchester United and Liverpool fans having mutual respect for each other. Ferguson echoed those sentiments in Friday’s press conference. Both clubs have suffered setbacks, from Hillsborough to Munich and there will always be banter between both sets of fans in a respectful way and as long as it doesn’t turn sour. That’s what makes the rivalry quite beautiful.
No one should face the abuse that Evra, Ademeye and a host of other players suffer. People say that actions speak louder than words and there’s nothing wrong with someone raising their hands and admitting they made a mistake and moving on. The sport industry needs leaders who can convey a message to the younger generation, people who have the courage to make a decision. It needs people who can truly kick racism out of football. Soon.
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