Football’s challenges continue

Football troubles never seem to end. That must be the conclusion of many of the sports most loyal fans around the world after all that has been happening over the past several months.
We have had the spectre of the FIFA elections, the so-called ‘cash for votes scandal, the seeming football demise of Austin ‘Jack’ Warner and now the unfortunate remarks made by Beleaguered FIFA President, Sepp Blatter on racist comments on the field of play. Here at home of course we have had the accusations of Bin Hammam’s money flying left, right and centre, football elections, the suspension of the General Secretary and the resignation of the technical director and head coach of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Football Federation (SVGFF).

Blatter’s comment
On Friday 18 November 2011 Blatter declared that as far as he was concerned there is no racism on the football field. He further noted that racial abuse between players could readily be handled by the same sort of handshake that players engage in following a foul in the heat of play.
One is not at all certain of the real reason for Blatter’s comment but they certainly were insensitive and revealed a side to the FIFA boss that the world simply cannot afford to embrace.
Racism in Football
Racism is not in any way new to the sport of football.
Some may recall that in the 1930s an Everton coloured player, Dixie Dean, was the object of racial derision while leaving the field of play during half time.
As recent as 2004, Spanish head coach, Luis Aragones was caught on film making racist remarks in respect of Thierry Henry, an outstanding player for Arsenal at the time. Aragones was caught saying to his own player, Jose Antonio Reyes, Henry’s teammate at the time, “Demuestra que eres mejor que ese negro de mierda” (“Show that you’re better than that black shit”).
Perhaps one of the most known footballer against whom racial slurs have been frequently hurled is Samuel Eto’o of Cameroon. In his first season playing for FC Barcelona, he was subjected to racist monkey chants whenever he touched the ball and some reports even claim that the crowd threw peanuts at the player while shouting racial slurs.
While playing in a match for his new team, Anzhi Makhachkala, in the Russian Premier league, renowned Brazilian defender, Roberto Carlos, found himself the object of racial antagonism. In a match at Senit St Petersburg in March of this year, a spectator thought it appropriate to hold a banana aloft near the player during the flag-raising ceremony. As of that was not enough discrimination, in June of this year, someone threw a banana onto the field of play as he played for his team at Krylia Sovetov Samara. Carlos simply took up the banana and placed it on the sidelines. He did however take time to raise his two fingers indicating that this was the second such incident to which he has been subjected while playing in Russia.
Earlier this month, just last week in fact, the English Football Association found it necessary to charge Liverpool’s Luis Suarez, for alleged racist remarks aimed at Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. A news report stated, it is alleged that Suarez used abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules,” the association said in a statement. “It is further alleged that this included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Patrice Evra.”
It should be noted that racial slurs have not always been levelled against blacks alone. Many have suffered because of their ethnicity.
In 2007 and again in 2008, Mido, an Egyptian player with Middlesbrough, was subjected to negative comments made by Newcastle fans about his ethnicity.
In very short order the world reacted to the comments made by Blatter. Virtually everywhere people expressed shock and then total abhorrence for Blatter’s unfortunate remarks at a time when evidence seems to suggest that there is an increase in the use of racial slurs not only by supporters of teams and officials of teams but also by players against each other.
British Prime Minister, David Cameron, was quick to decry Blatter’s comments and called for his immediate resignation as head of football’s governing body.
One international media source, AFP, noted,
South African FIFA committee member and anti-apartheid activist Tokyo Sexwale on Friday criticised Sepp Blatter’s denial of racism in football and slammed England for keeping John Terry as captain.
Blatter, the president of FIFA, caused global outrage this week when he said there is no racism on the pitch and that any racial abuse between players should be settled with a handshake.
“It was rather unfortunate of Blatter to utter such statements. We have had countless cases of racial slurs being spewed by players on the field of play,” said Sexwale, who sits on the football governing body’s anti-racism committee.
“You can’t mitigate racist slurs with a handshake. No handshake can repair this damage,” he added.
“Such statements are damaging. Its consequences cannot be known.”
The International News on 22 November 2011 cited comments made by Rio Ferdinand.
Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand – whose brother Anton was the target of an alleged slur by England captain John Terry – was one of the most outspoken critics, saying on Twitter that he was “astonished” by Blatter’s comments.
“Sepp Blatter your comments on racism are so condescending its almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that ok?” Ferdinand wrote. “I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism…it seems it was just on mute for a while.”
Others have come out against Blatter’s statement.
In what may well have some people confused, South African, Tokyo Sexwale, has apparently jumped in to suggest that Blatter is not himself racist. He seemed to have adopted a supportive role and appears to have joined Blatter in extolling the role that the latter is playing in the fight to end racism in the sport.
Sexwale’s comments in respect of his seeming defence of Blatter may well have arisen form the fact that he is well placed in FIFA. Some are amazed of his stance given that FIFA posted a picture on its web site of Blatter giving a hug to Sexwale in the height of the international furore.
The situation is perhaps even more disturbing since Sexwale spent 12 years in the same prison as Nelson Mandela for conspiring to overthrow South Africa’s white-minority government.
Indeed nothing is surprising in the wide and wonderful world of sport.
Blatter’s won reaction has been to issue an apology.
Blatter told BBC Blatter Sport,
“When you have done something which was absolutely not totally correct, I can only say I am sorry for all those people affected by my declarations.
“I am sorry and I regret that my statements earlier this week have resulted in an unfortunate situation. I am committed to the fight against racism and I will not stop until I have stamped out racism in football.”
That Sexwale read out the apology is itself very instructive and may well tell a most important tale.
Later, Blatter again apologised for the damage that his statements had caused globally.
One thing is certain, he has also indicated his commitment to his continued leadership of FIFA and that he would not resign.
Like Juan Antonio Samaranch of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) at the time of the Salt Lake City Scandal that rocked the IOC to its very foundations, Blatter remains steadfast that he is going to be the architect of reform within his own international body. Blatter, like Samaranch, seems oblivious to the fact that the troubles of FIFA have occurred under his leadership and that should otherwise count against him.
Amazingly there has been utter silence from the football fraternity in the Caribbean during the latest Blatter saga. We of all people should have much to say when we hear of racism being treated lightly by the president of FIFA. Instead we remain deafeningly silent.
This is not new. It has become commonplace for the Caribbean sports administrators to see themselves as little fish in the sea of big fish. They pull their tails between their legs every time fearing the worst from their international counterparts.
In reality though the Caribbean administrators of sport fail to do their homework. They do no research and therefore have little impact on the world scene. In the Caribbean there have been few exceptions to this.
Warner may have been n the inside but while there he did not appear anxious to rock the boat. Only now that he has found himself in the proverbial ‘hot water’ that we are hearing rumblings of wanting to create a tsunami in the sport in which he may well have once shared the innermost secrets.
For too many of the region’s sports administrators the anxiety to grab after the crumbs that fall from the table of the leaders of international sport takes precedence over their commitment to genuine development, fair play and preservation of integrity in sport.
We may also add that given the scare that Caribbean football leaders recently received from FIFA in the ‘cash for votes’ scandal, none of them would even so much as want to appear challenging Blatter.
Everywhere that racism has reared its ugly head it must be internationally condemned and sport is no exception, to say nothing of football.
The lofty values attendant to sport should leave no room for racism and/or discrimination of any sort.
It may also be instructive that at a time when we should be considering ourselves to be post modernists we find ourselves retreating into an ear of decadence. WE should have bypassed this phase in sport already.
One is not in any way befuddled by the comments made by the man who currently heads the sport of football – Sepp Blatter. Indeed, some have reminded us that Blatter is originally German and that in and of itself may mean something.
Blatter is usually considered quite jocular but this latest comment cannot in any way be considered a joke.
It should be remembered that Blatter is not new to the sport. Prior to being elected president of FIFA he served for many years as the organisation’s General Secretary. He must be aware of the importance of ensuring that football does not allow itself to degenerate into an arena of racism in the contemporary period.
The world of sport and the entire global fraternity cannot afford to allow racism in any form to rear its ugly head.
Not in today’s world!