x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Kick football out of racism

Liverpool's support for Suarez was motivated by many things, including blind loyalty and a siege mentality. It was not fuelled by a belief in white supremacy.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Patrice Evra of Manchester United is led away from Liverpool players by referee Phil Dowd as he celebrates victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on February 11, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 11: Patrice Evra of Manchester United is led away from Liverpool players by referee Phil Dowd as he celebrates victory after the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Liverpool at Old Trafford on February 11, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Events surrounding the Liverpool-Manchester United match last week prove the sport cannot do subtle satire

It was the Ku Klux Klan hood adorned with the Liverpool logo that finally convinced me: professional football should NOT be the front line for tackling racism.

Just to be very clear, the hood was not official LFC merchandise. Yes, the club's handling of the Suarez-Evra race row has been misguided and, arguably, offensive. And, yes, it does seem that most football clubs will now stamp their crest on pretty much anything if it means they can flog it in the club shop for three times its value.

But the infamous uniform of a white supremacist group? Even Premier League football clubs have to draw the line.

The hood was in fact a joke by Manchester United fans. It was printed on the back cover of a fanzine, bearing the slogans "LFC" and "Suarez is innocent".

With tongue firmly in cheek, the magazine suggested United fans might like to cut out and wear the mask, to make their visitors feel welcome. As it happens, they never got the chance. Police officers confiscated thousands of copies of the fanzine on the grounds that it could incite race hate.

Confiscation was a good idea but the reasoning was ludicrous. If anything, the masks were anti-racist. They were a mocking satire on a club which has refused to condemn a player, Luis Suarez, for calling a black opponent by a racial term.

Satire, however, is a subtle art and football does not do subtle. When the intended humour drifts away (and humour tends to drift pretty quickly when Manchester United play Liverpool) only the cold accusation remains.

For years, Liverpool FC and their fans will be called racists when they visit Old Trafford, and probably many other grounds. It will be distasteful and unfair to a club with a multiracial fan base and a history of good work in tackling racism.

But since when did fairness or taste come into the equation for winding up opponents? Some United fans still taunt Liverpool over the Heysel and Hillsborough stadium disasters. Some Liverpool fans still sing about the Munich air disaster.

Liverpool's support for Suarez was motivated by many things, including blind loyalty and an instinctive siege mentality against what they perceived, genuinely but wrongly, as an anti-Liverpool ploy by the media and football establishment. It was not fuelled by a belief in white supremacy.

Harry Redknapp's exclusive interview

Likewise, their stubborn refusal to give any credence to Patrice Evra's complaint was ugly and ill-judged, but it was not racist. They simply got their priorities badly wrong.

"Kicking out racism" is a misnomer. One cannot simply kick out generations of prejudice. Rather, the process requires civilised discussion, honesty, self-criticism and, ultimately, a readiness to move on from past mistakes.

Do those sound like qualities often found in football?

It is hard enough to establish a rational discourse in the real world, so why we are trying to establish it in the hysterical, judgemental, tribal cauldron of football - where every mistake is analysed, every incident logged, every running sore gleefully poked - is a mystery.

Of course we should not tolerate abusive chanting. Of course a player has a right, a duty even, to report racial abuse by other players. And, yes, of course football can stick up a few pointless slogans, if it wants to.

But, please, let us drop the idea that football should be at the vanguard of the assault. Racism is a grown-up problem; football is an infantile world.

On those two issues, I am a segregationist. But not in a KKK way.

sports@thenational.ae

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