Archives for category: Sports politics

I’m an unapologetic media junkie. Five Live’s always on, newspapers (or their websites) are scoured daily and plenty else besides is consumed with relish, though I draw the line at Sky Sports News (except for transfer deadline day of course).

And I understand what makes news and why those stories don’t always mutate into the most logical, balanced, rounded expressions of understanding.

But I found myself becoming increasingly infuriated about the Sepp Blatter story last week. Blatter is a wrong ‘un. There doesn’t seem to be much doubt about that. And his comments about racism were ugly, clumsy and utterly foolish for someone who has been in a top job for so many years. Does Blatter hold racist views? I don’t know and I don’t really care. That isn’t the point.

Is John Terry racist? Or Luis Suarez? Who knows? And what precisely constitutes being a racist? Using derogatory, offensive language? Or crossing to the other side of the road when you see a group of young black men? Or the almost non-existence of black football managers in England? Or TV programmes like BBC1′s feeble detective show Death in Paradise in which every Caribbean stereotype is trotted out in the interests of comedy drama?

When Robbie Savage is lecturing us about codes of behaviour, you know that the plot has been truly mislaid. In Friday’s Daily Telegraph John Barnes spoke with exceptional frankness and intelligence about this issue. “We are all racist to a certain extent,” he said. “We all make presumptions about other people based on their colour, culture or ethnicity in variable degrees. We judge people even on their accents.”

Prejudice exists within all of us. It is an unpalatable part of human nature and and it is the job of a civilised progressive society to fight prejudice of all kinds and promote tolerance and greater understanding.

Blatter’s comments exposed him as ignorant and arrogant but I am prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that  with regard to the Terry/Suarez issues he was attempting to put those in some sort of context. Though, by belittling those specific issues he belittled the wider problem.

In situations like this players are role models but frankly they are but drops in the ocean of greater prejudice in football. The game promotes bigotry by its very nature. The tribalism that is re-heated to boiling point week after week spawns all manner of unpleasantness: racism, homophobia, you name it.

To obsess about what multimillionaire footballer said to another is to miss the point about a much wider, international problem. Not that I’d expect Blatter to understand that either.

For all the rottenness of Fifa, its unwillingness to entertain political interference among its constituent members is a sound policy and one which cricket’s global authority happily chooses to ignore.

The escalation of the poppy-wearing row to the point at which the Prime Minister and a member of the Royal Family are badgering world football’s governing body seems a colossal over-reaction, not to mention surely precisely the sort of political interference which Fifa rightly does not tolerate.

The wearing of poppies ought to be a solemn, subtle and personal gesture. It is supposed to be about remembering the fallen, about the futility of war and the price of human life. It is not supposed to become an act of hysterical national ostentation encouraging anyone with half a brain to air their dubious nationalistic sentiments.

The zeal with which the FA and then the government sought to brand a high-profile international sporting confrontation with a label synonymous with war is insensitive and arrogant. Fifa’s point about political and religious symbolism is entirely valid and even one argues that the poppy is not remotely political, which I think is a dubious claim, then you can forgive Fifa their pedantry.

What if Serbia wore some sort of badge to remember their dead in the Balkan wars of the 1990s? Would the English FA happily acknowledge this is simply a gesture of remembrance or would they see it as a grotesque celebration of mass genocide? This is an extreme example and I am not seriously comparing Britain with Serbia but my point is that there are different viewpoints. Yet the FA set their case with such bombastic certainty you can just see the rest of footballing world’s collective eyes rolling.

And surely this is such an unnecessary argument. What does it matter whether the England team wear poppies or not? Does it make them more or less aware of the point of Remembrance Sunday? All that has happened is yet again the England football team has been turned into some sort of weird circus. The tasty prospect of match at a sold-out Wembley against the best team in the world has been soured by a week of idiotic politicking.

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