The Suárez saga intensifies football’s great racial conundrum
The live outpouring at present, following the guilty verdict offered in the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris over the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 is a timely reminder that as a nation, Britain holds little stock for racist behaviour.
It would be disingenuous to try and link a heinous hate crime with the actions of Liverpool’s Luis Suárez, who was charged with racially abusing Patrice Evra, the Manchester United defender. But the rearguard action offered by many within the sport upon the verdict first being announced – crowned in particular by Liverpool’s extraordinary statement of support – suggests a disconnect from reality.
Under current employment laws, if you were to go into your workplace and abuse a colleague racially, or for their sex or creed you would fully expect to face disciplinary action as a minimum and subsequent dismissal from your post on the grounds of gross misconduct. You may well be a nice person, who gives cards out at Christmas or brings cake for birthdays. But when you cross that line, you expect to be punished.
Moreover, you should expect your character to be examined in the strongest terms. Perhaps the most offensive thing to come from the explanation of the verdict, released by The FA on New Year’s Eve, was the notion that Suárez – in spite of being found guilty of racial abuse by an independent panel – was not a racist. His presence at a club with the heritage that Liverpool affords, coupled with an affiliation on a program run in South Africa was meant to be a means to justify this assumption.
The question that has to be asked of Luis Suárez is this: if you are not a racist, why did you feel the need to use racist language? To abuse an opponent of colour?
The cultural justification has been mooted as a reason, but nearly all in question forget the fact that Suárez didn’t come to the Premier League straight from a club in South America: he spent three years at Ajax Amsterdam (and a year Groningen before that), playing with many footballers of colour. Given the Netherlands’ rich cultural heritage, are we to understand that they would have turned a blind eye had Suárez undertaken a similar action there?
The tragic indictment, particularly with Liverpool’s original statement, rings true with the broader Orwellian issue in football of two-tier equality. That somehow what happens on the pitch bears no resemblance to everyday life. Similar platitudes of defence were offered to Richard Keys and Andy Gray following their dismissal from Sky after sexist comments made about Sian Massey and Karen Brady. ‘It’s all part of the game… It’s banter!’ is the usual cry – similar fare is often offered in pubs up and down the land – you’ve probably heard it: ‘I’m not racist..! Some of my best friends are p*k*s/n***er*/w**s…’ (delete as appropriate).
Somehow, in modern football’s twisted sense of values, sexism and racism are just fine in the confines of stadium walls. They are, unequivocally, mutually exclusive from those people are outside. This is not to tar the many, but if Stan Collymore’s recent work on Twitter was anything to go by to deny is to be deluded in the extreme.
Outrages in the sport nearly always boil down to the examples that is meant to be set for impressionable children watching the game – today, of all days, should perhaps serve as indemnity that aside from racism being abhorred, the nature of competition and sport doesn’t provide a grey area for it to manifest and glow.
sEs. 3/1/12 - written originally for 11aside.com