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Soup of This Day #119: Hold Your Head Up High

January 11, 2012

The Kop, Anfield
The Kop, Anfield. Football lives here. Just football, ok? – Photo: Zweifüssler, 2011. Zweifüssler is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

Of late I’ve heard the phrase ‘There’s no place for racism in sport’ bandied around a bit. I get the spirit of the statement but I’m not sure it’s accurate – Unfortunately there is a place for racism in sport. Sport is a microcosm of society, albeit a warped 1, particular in the rarefied air of highly paid professional athletes. In society there is a place for racism and therefore there is surely a place in sport. It’s a foul and dank hole of a place but it’s there nonetheless. Perhaps the phrase should read ‘There should be no tolerance of racism in any facet of society.’

Because there just shouldn’t be.

This post comes about because of recent events that have embroiled Liverpool FC, 1 of the pillars of the Longworth72 sporting life. In the 1st, star striker Luis Suárez was involved in an on-field altercation with Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. The verbal stoush occurred around the penalty spot as the players were awaiting the delivery of a dead-ball. Evra alleged that Suárez used racist language during the exchange. Initially it was thought that he had used the word ‘nigger’. It turns out not. Suárez admits to using the less offensive term ‘negro’ in a conversation that was held in Spanish but contends that such a term is ok in his home country Uruguay and that it is affectionate rather than malicious.

Which is surely stretching the bounds of imagination beyond credibility. While Evra agrees that the word used was ‘negro’ or ‘negrito’, it’s his contention that Suarez was using the words in such a way that they were calculated to wound, to get under Evra’s skin such that he might act foolishly. In this reading of the situation Suárez was baiting and sledging his opponent. Evra’s interpretation is most likely correct – In the intensity of a Liverpool vs Man U match I’m guessing that affection is not commonplace in the penalty box. Antagonistic fishing on the other hand is probably as natural as breathing at this level of competition. In any case Suárez’ use of the word ‘negro’ is an extremely poor choice if he was aiming for a conciliatory tone.

There is some mitigation – Suárez was speaking in his native dialect. The word ‘negro’ does not have the same meaning or indeed power that it does in England or elsewhere. It has a strict definition of referring to the colour black. So what Suárez was doing was trash-talking to an opponent by referencing his skin colour.

Which is using racist language and any mitigation counts for not a lot – What Suárez did is wrong and there should be no tolerance for such utterances in our society. His 8-match ban therefore seems about right and Suárez has promised to not use the word ‘black’ on the pitch again in reference to opponents.

What has complicated the matter has been:

a. Liverpool’s staunch-to-the-point-of-blindly-incompetent defence of their man. At 1st admirable, as they strove to protect Suárez from hyperbole and conviction via the mob, it soon descended into a mad search for loopholes and absurdest excuses. Linguistics experts were hauled out to explain that in Suárez’ local dialect ‘negro’ is a term of loving affection and conspiracies were floated to the effect that Manchester United were subtly manipulating the situation to their advantage. Which is ironic given that this kind of ‘us-vs-them’ mentality has been a staple of Sir Alec Ferguson’s reign at Man U and is 1 of the reasons that so many fans dislike the red half of Manchester so much; and

b. Luis Suárez is an unlikeable footballer. Not because he’s a ‘foreigner’ or more specifically a South American. No, he’s unlikeable because he goes down way too easily.

He dives.

Blatantly.

It’s bloody cheating. It’s not something to admire and nor is it made more palatable by the many frankly brilliant things he does on the pitch. And I’m a Liverpool fan – Imagine if I was for 1 of the other clubs whose supporters Liverpool FC are now working hard to alienate.

The 2nd incident mercifully doesn’t involve Luis – Under suspension, he didn’t feature in Liverpool’s FA Cup tie against 1st Division Oldham. While Oldham took a shock 1st half lead, it wasn’t to last, being wiped out just 66s after the Latics had scored. From there on in it was Liverpool’s game and they ran out 5-1 winners, albeit with 2 late goals, to the misfiring duo of Andy Carroll and Stuart Downing, padding the scoreline somewhat.

None of this is contentious.

The bit that is involves young Oldham midfielder Tom Adeyemi. At some point late in the match a fan at the Kop end of Anfield shouted out something that was alleged to have been racist. The words were calculated to hurt and they affected Tom such that he was visibly upset. His teammates rallied around, as did Liverpool’s captain Steven Gerrard amongst others from the home side, who went over to console the young man. Subsequent to the match Merseyside Police, in conjunction with Liverpool FC, undertook an investigation and a 20 year old man has been arrested. If found guilty he will be dealt with by the law and will hopefully learn the lesson that such behaviour should not be acceptable at any level in our society, including at a football match.

Again, there is a complication though. This time it is from some in the media who have suggested that Liverpool FC have somehow condoned and even fostered such behaviour by way of their defence of Suárez. Oliver Holt’s article in the Mirror being an example of such a viewpoint. Paul Wilson’s effort for the Guardian is a mite more balanced but it still connects the dots between the incidents.

Maybe I’m missing something a little deeper but I can’t help feeling that’s a fair old leap they’ve taken.

At no point in their defence of Suárez has the club ever stated or implied that it is ok to hurl racially charged epithets at anyone. It seems like this is the kind of act of someone who is a prize moron. He had that problem before Suarez acted like an ignorant pillock and he had that problem afterwards too. With any luck he’s now learning that it’s his problem and Suárez’ problem rather than Tom Adeyemi’s and Patrice Evra’s.

It’s not a morally ambiguous act either, yelling ‘@#$%ing black bastard’ at the top of your lungs at a kid playing football – There is no ethical legroom in that and Liverpool FC have surely not created a grey area whereby any reasonable person might see a case for such behaviour. What Liverpool FC have done is to royally botch the way they’ve handled the Suárez affair but I don’t know that this suddenly allows for fans to bypass a clear moral standard that is referenced before each game and that exists in the streets of everyday life. Come to think of it, such an action is bound to land you in trouble with the law in almost every situation bar sitting at home and saying the offensive words under your breath.

FYI, People who fit that latter description are still ignorant morons. It’s just that they’re quiet 1s.

This has been a difficult post to write – For the 2nd time in a week I find myself unable to end with a joke, principally because there is absolutely nothing funny about a kid being reduced to tears because of the colour of his skin. Discrimination is abhorent. To see it come from those who purport to back a club that I love makes the whole thing pretty bloody uncomfortable on a personal level. For all that I reckon it’s not so much as a tiny fraction as awkward for me as it was for Tom Adeyemi or Patrice Evra and for them, rather than me, there should be no tolerance for racism in any facet of our society.

Hold Your Head Up High

2 Comments
  1. Society still struggles with this problem, logically extending itself into sports. Great strides have been made but sports still sometimes doesn’t handle the flare-ups well. Sometimes, the way these incidents are handled actually makes things worse. Damage upon damage.

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