Football must confront the unending scourge of racism

Black players such as Raheem Sterling are relentlessly singled out by the media for criticism - the lack of progress is an outrage. 

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Why is English football so incapable of protecting black players from racial abuse? It’s a question I have found myself asking too many times. Writing as a 18-year-old black teen, I am always being told that the situation was much worse before the creation of the Premier League in February 1992. But I don’t buy it, not when banana skins are being thrown at black players in high-profile games broadcast around the world. The shocking reality is that racism may be more subtle in football than it is in society; but it is still prominent and pernicious. The lack of progression in racial equality within the football world (and the world in general) is, quite frankly, disgraceful.

Take the recent case of Raheem Sterling, the 24-year-old Manchester City and England forward, who has dominated the back, and indeed, the front pages of the newspapers this week. A Chelsea fan has ludicrously denied racially abusing Sterling – during the match against Man City at the weekend – as the England forward was preparing to take a corner. The middle-aged man, who was standing in the front row, has said that he called Sterling a “Manc cunt”, not a “black cunt”.

If you’re going to be racist, at least own it. This lack of progress perhaps reflects the agendas pushed by sections of the media. As difficult as what I call subconscious racism is to prove, the targeting of black players is blatant. Ever since his move from Liverpool to rivals Manchester City, Raheem Sterling, who was born in Jamaica and moved to England with his mother as a young boy, has been portrayed as a villain – someone who could do no right – by the press. We are told he is flash, irresponsible with money and undeserving of his wealth and fame. In short, he’s a bad role model.

Sterling has been pictured in shops such as Poundland and Primark and, as a consequence, been criticised for being in such shops. Why is it anyone’s business where he shops? White journalists need to come to terms with this simple fact: Sterling is, after years of sacrifice and hard work, a rich young man. He should be allowed to make personal choices like every other member of society. Not a hard concept, but one many of those journalists who target Sterling because he has tattoos or shops in the wrong places, or buys the wrong house, have failed to grasp.

Sterling isn’t alone among black players in being unfairly targeted. Dean Saunders, the former Wales striker turned blowhard pundit, remarked of Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette on TalkSport radio: “Sometimes, I think, he is he more interested in flash cars and fur coats. Is he bothered really? He has to have that Harry Kane drive in his stomach.”

When I heard these words, a wave of anger and confusion swept over me. It is hardly a secret that footballers are paid exorbitant wages but Lacazette’s spending habits are highlighted in a manner unlike that of his peers. The attack was even more inappropriate because Lacazette, until that point, had never been pictured in a fur coat.

The unfavourable comparison of the French striker to Kane, the England captain, was another example of an attempt to influence and control public opinion. In reality, they are two remarkably talented and dedicated footballers. One just happens to be black.

Fortunately, players are increasingly willing to fight back by talking openly and raising awareness of football’s enduring race problem. Sterling himself took to social media, warning that the press were “fuelling racism” and appealing for fair and equal treatment of all players. His moving Instagram post generated a huge response, with many praising Sterling’s bravery and fortitude.

But the problem is much bigger than Raheem Sterling or Lacazette. It’s bigger than football. It’s a problem about British culture. What’s needed? A shift in the culture and the mentality, so that we finally start to view one another as truly equal. Let’s hope for a better future.