There’s nothing black and white about these racism allegations

Why we should resist passing judgement on these racial abuse accusations.

It would be easy to look at recent events in the world's two most lucrative and popular football leagues and conclude that in the last 10 days, racism has made an unwanted reappearance in modern football. Luis Suarez's infamous spat with Patrice Evra during Liverpool's game against Manchester United on October 15, was followed by two further incidents of alleged racism this weekend; one involving John Terry and Anton Ferdinand during the west London derby at Loftus road this Sunday, the other involving former north London rivals Cesc Fabregas and Frédéric Kanouté as Barcelona hosted Seville on the same day. But just because it would be easy to make this conclusion, doesn't mean that it would be right.

Each of the three incidents involves two opponents, one white and one black, sharing some choice language. The question is just what did they choose to say. In the case of Suarez and Evra, the Manchester United player accuses the Liverpool striker of calling him "certain word at least ten times." The word in question is clearly a well-known racial pejorative and one which Suarez denies using. The Football Association is currently investigating the incident. The allegation which caused John Terry to issue a statement in which he said "I would never say such a thing and I'm saddened that people would think so" is slightly different. Ferdinand hasn't accused Terry of anything, rather television footage from the game circulated on the internet shows Terry shout something at the QPR defender. Evidence in this footage is far from concrete and although the second word Terry appears to say wouldn't be considered very polite, it is unclear whether the word which precedes it relates to the colour of Ferdinand's skin or the quality of his eyesight. In Spain, the clash between Fabregas and Kanouté, the only incident of the three which lead to disciplinary action on the pitch (Kanouté was sent off for grabbing Fabregas), continued on Twitter, where Kanouté insisted "there was provocation and an insult", while Fabregas categorically denied it was of a racial nature "to cry racism is cowardly and an easy option to excuse your own poor behaviour."

In an era in which the public expects the most contentious incidents in high profile matches to be settled retrospectively through intense media scrutiny, it is a source of great frustration to both football fans and pundits that altercations such as those discussed above are likely to remain inconclusive. It doesn't matter how many cameras are packed into a ground, there's always likely to be instances where the only evidence for the nature of a spat will be one player's word against another's. Consequently in many cases, the Suarez/Evra incident being a good example, both parties involved become negatively tainted: one is suspected of lying, the other of being racist.

It is a mark of how far public attitudes towards racism in sport have progressed, that modern players now view being branded a racist as beyond contempt. Indeed if there is one thing the game seems to hold in lower regard than racists, it's those who are thought to have made false accusations of racism. Terry justified his aggressive response to Anton Ferdinand saying, "I thought Anton was accusing me of using a racist slur against him" and Fabregas signed off his signed off his Twitter defence stating "I will not tolerate anyone accusing me of things that I'm not". All too aware that mud sticks if you are seen to let it, the ferocity with which these charges are denied invites us to question the integrity of the accuser. The mistake we make is by accepting.

On the Monday following the Liverpool v Manchester United match the Guardian launched an online poll asking "Should Evra be banned if his claims prove false?" second guessing the outcome of an FA investigation that was barely 24 hours old. And today the Daily Mail has cast its considered and balanced view on both domestic incidents suggesting to Messers Evra and Ferdinand that they "could just put up with it and get on with the game." Both newspapers seem keen to draw a line under events, without the necessary information available to do so. It is unlikely that any of the above episodes will be concluded decisively, but that doesn't mean we should succumb to our desire to treat accusations of racial abuse as simple black and white issues.

 

 

 

 

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.