England International and Manchester City striker, Raheem Sterling, was racially abused recently by Chelsea fans during their televised fixture at Stamford Bridge on 8th December. Normally this would have gone unreported, but Sterling bravely chose to publicly complain.
Yet this wasn’t the only recent instance of a player suffering racial abuse on the pitch. On 3rd December, a banana skin was thrown onto the pitch after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored in the North London derby between Arsenal and Tottenham (a club subjected to regular anti-semitic attacks).
Soon after, at a Europa League game in Budapest on 13th December, Chelsea fans were again in the limelight, with reports of anti-semitic songs emanating from the away supporters' section of the stadium.
Elsewhere, disturbingly, a youth coach at West Ham (a club with an unwelcome record over the years on racism) was temporarily suspended for posting online that he had been on a pro-Tommy Robinson march.
It is clear that racism is alive and kicking in English football…and not just on the terraces.
Manchester City manager, Pep Guardiola, praised Sterling for his resilience in the face of racist abuse. “Racism is everywhere, not just football,” Guardiola correctly stated.
Racism is part of the oppressive and exploitative capitalist system, promoted and fomented by the ruling class to divide workers against each other. It festers in the most degenerated layers of society. This fact, however, should not be used to let the football authorities off the hook.
Chelsea FC have since suspended the fans involved. The Metropolitan Police, meanwhile, have opened up an investigation. But apart from issuing a lifetime ban from attending football matches and maybe giving a brief custodial sentence or fine, what will be done? In short, nothing.
The Kick It Out anti-racism charity is meant to support players who have received racist abuse and discrimination. But it has shown itself to be totally inadequate in confronting racism in football.
Many high-profile black English footballers, such as Rio Ferdinand and Joleon Lescott, have refused to support the charity’s campaigns or endorse the organisation because of its lack of action over regular and unchallenged racism from fans, players, and sporting institutions.
Rio Ferdinand, in particular, has strong memories of how John Terry in 2011 (then a Chelsea and England player) was effectively allowed to get away with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Rio’s brother, at a QPR-Chelsea match.
The chairman of Kick It Out, Lord Herman Ouseley, recently announced his resignation after 25 years at the head of the organisation. On the subject of the racial abuse that Sterling received, he criticised the leadership of the Premier League, the FA, and Chelsea.
“We do not have any leadership at the top of the game to speak out,” Ouseley asserted. Kick It Out receives vast amounts of funding from the FA, Premier League, and PFA footballers’ union. But Ouseley correctly understands that this money only goes so far.
Silence from the top
FIFA, the greatest beneficiary of big business in football, appears totally disinterested in the subject of racism in football. They are happy to pay lip service on the issue, offering platitudes over racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. every so often - so long as it does not detract from the glorification of the product being presented by the billionaires who now dominate the game at the highest level.
Historically, FIFA has never let ethics get in the way of a tidy profit. The second ever World Cup in 1934, for example, was awarded to Mussolini’s fascist Italy, who hosted and won the competition.
Racial abuse from fans and players often goes unpunished by FIFA, or clubs and governing bodies are simply given small fines for their fans’ ‘conduct’. The symbols of open racism and right-wing nationalism (and even fascism) seen at many grounds are largely ignored by the authorities and by FIFA, who only act when it doesn’t really matter.
The impression presented by football institutions and their friends in the UK media is that the bad old days of the 1970s and the 1980s will never return. But this idea has been challenged by these recent incidents.
Fans and players are now demanding action. Some reporters have broken ranks with the cosy “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” attitude of the press to reveal a game still riddled with racism. We are now getting details of the everyday casual racism spouted by managers and coaches, happy that the press will treat it as “off the record”. Meanwhile, the League Managers Association and the Professional Footballers Association stay silent.
In reality, racist elements within the ranks of football supporters represent only a tiny minority. They tend to gravitate towards certain clubs that have an historical reputation for trouble in this respect: Chelsea, West Ham, Millwall, Leeds and so on.
Yet it should be noted that most football fans who attend games are white, even in areas with a strong non-white population. Some clubs, such as Leicester, have tried to combat this and make local ethnic minorities feel more welcome at games. But it is clear that most do not yet feel comfortable attending a match (even if they can afford to go in the first place, given spiralling ticket prices).
Far too many people rightly feel that the football authorities are just going through the motions and that, as in society in general, nothing will actually be done. As such, small groups of bigots and racists are allowed to act with impunity, having a detrimental impact on non-white players, coaches, and supporters out of all proportion to their numbers. These racist thugs must be cleared out.
On top of this, we have seen far-right elements jumping on the bandwagon - with the formation of the Football Lads Alliance and its later split-off, the Democratic Football Lads Alliance - to promote their vile ideas and intimidate local communities.
These reactionary organisations have attempted to bring together long-standing football hooligan gangs under a far-right banner, with a promise of violence and racist protests. Genuine supporters’ organisations have been quick to oppose these groups and distance themselves from these gangs of cretins.
Unite and fight
The racial bias of football’s governing bodies, the mainstream media, and within the game itself is exactly why racism desperately needs tackling - on and off the pitch.
Governing bodies in football and sport more widely require a total transformation to deal with racism. At present they are formed by an upper-class elite for an upper-class elite.
This transformation should include: democratic control of clubs and governing bodies with representation from players, coaches, and - especially - supporters; caps on the sky-high wages of players and management; and profits given back to local communities.
This requires the nationalisation of football clubs. At the moment, at the top level, these are multi-billion pound assets controlled by billionaires (and even whole countries). Instead, we need them to be publicly owned and controlled, put in the hands of the community. It’s our game - we need to take control of it.
It is the power of the working class that can defeat racism, the far right, and fascism. Racism is fuelled by the inequalities and exploitation within capitalist society, used by the bosses to divide workers and undermine working-class unity.
The bosses’ press are happy to whip up racist sentiment when it suits their interests - note the endless newspaper headlines about “swarms of migrants” and “disloyal” Muslims and so on. Tory politicians are also happy to indulge in this. After all, they need a scapegoat for their austerity policies.
We say: unite and fight to kick racism out of football once and for all. As long as capitalism exists, the putrid stench of racial intolerance will linger. Only with a socialist transformation can we put an end to the scourge of racism in football, sport and society.