“My mummy says that I can’t play with you because you’re dangerous.” Those were the words uttered to a 10 year old girl on a playground because she happened to be wearing a turban. A nine year old boy was told that he couldn’t possibly be from the UK because he “is brown”. Just two incidents from the last month where young children in this country were made to feel unwelcome in their own country because of racism.
Recent statistics have shown that black women in the UK are five times more likely to die in childbirth, and it’s well known that having a traditionally non-white name on your CV will net you fewer responses. In football, while 25 per cent of white ex-pros get jobs in management, just 10 per cent of former black players do. The English leagues’ resistance to implementing the ‘Rooney Rule’ means that this disparity is likely to continue.
We can blind ourselves to the truth and say that this is just a problem confined to the terraces, or we can open our eyes to the fact that this is everywhere in football. How many times do we hear the phrase “pace and power” when a black player runs with the ball? Now multiply that by a factor of ten when an African team is playing. Not only is this lazy commentary that perpetuates stereotypes, it often isn’t even true. I’ve lost count of the number of times I heard commentators waxing lyrical about Alex Iwobi’s “pace and power” as he’s beaten to the ball by pacier and more powerful (often white) fullbacks. In addition, reducing dribbling at speed to mere “pace and power” dismisses the decision making, technical ability, and intelligence required to perform such a move.
Of course it’s not just football commentary that has a problem. Certain newspapers have – rightly – been pilloried in recent times for their ludicrous handling of young black players. Raheem Sterling in particular deserves credit for the way he stood up to the papers that lambasted him for spending too much (and then not enough) money in the space of a few weeks.
Football has a racism problem yes, but so does the whole of the UK. Racism is insidious and sneaky. It’s the thing that causes you to miss out on an interview despite being perfectly qualified, and it’s the evil that prevents children playing without fear. If we keep pretending that this is something only seen on the terraces, defined only by people hurling around racial slurs and monkey chants, then we ignore the true problem.