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.