There was a period, for some considerable time in fact, that United Rant carried a ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’ graphic on the site’s front page. In the intervening years both Rant, and Kick it Out (KIO) have undergone brand redesign. But if the graphic was lost by accident, then the spotlight placed on the organisation by Rio Ferdinand and others this weekend is anything but happenstance.
Ferdinand’s decision to refuse KIO’s ‘one game. one community’ t-shirt during Manchester United’s warm-up ahead of Saturday’s fixture with Stoke City brought Sir Alex Ferguson’s considerable ire. The organisation had asked, via the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), that all players wear the shirt this weekend, or next, as part of an annual week of action.
Ferdinand’s refusal is a pointed, though, with the 33-year-old defender reportedly angry at KIO’s limp response to John Terry’s four-match ban for racially abusing brother Anton.
More than provoking one Scotsman’s anger, Ferdinand’s choice has once again raised the debate not only about racism in the English game, but how to deal with it. Terry’s ban is widely thought to be lenient given the crime’s severity, with the Londoner found to have racially abused the younger Ferdinand in calling the defender a “f*cking black c*nt”.
Moreover, KIO’s response has been so tepid that Ferdinand and other black players who refused to wear the ‘one game’ t-shirt this weekend now feel the organisation’s position is fatally compromised. After all, KIO’s refusal to condemn the leniency shown to Terry, who continued to play for England throughout the 11-month saga, comes within the context of the group’s funding – more than £330,000 of a £450,000 annual budget is provided by the FA and Premier League.
The anger may well be better directed at the perpetrators of racism, but there is no doubt that the Ferdinand brothers, Joleon Lescot, Reading striker Jason Roberts, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards, Djibril Cisse, Victor Anichebe, Steven Pienaar, Junior Hoilett and others feel let down by KIO in recent months. It is an organisation unprepared to bite the hand that feeds it.
Yet, there are those ready to speak up, including Roberts who recently Tweeted that people expecting black players to “‘to put up with it’” will find “thosedays are gone. We DEMAND to be treated with respect, we are not asking.”
Ferguson is having none of it though, with the Scot promising gathered media last Friday that his players would wear the KIO shirt – presumably before checking with his squad. In that Ferguson believes that Ferdinand’s snub is as much directed at the 70-year-old United manager as it is for KIO.
No surprise then that Ferguson’s unilateral promise was followed up with an outburst of genuine anger at Ferdinand on Saturday evening, and an implicit threat towards the central defender.
“He will be dealt with, no doubt about that,” Ferguson told MUTV.
“I’m disappointed with Rio for not wearing the t-shirt. It’s an embarrassment for me. I’m very disappointed because I said in the press conference the players would be wearing it. We’re all wearing the badges and he goes and lets us down. But we’ll deal with it, don’t worry.”
Indeed, the Sun reported on Sunday that Ferguson will fine his player £220,000 – two week’s wages – for the protest. The coincidence in Terry paying the very same amount in fines for his racial slur is unpleasant. Whether United can impose the fine under the terms of Ferdinand’s contract is one question; why Ferdinand, who is out of contract in June 2013, would choose to stay at Old Trafford in those circumstances, is another.
In any case, one suspects Ferguson’s real anger is not in the protest per se, but in a perceived defiance.
Yet, Ferdinand has received support, both from PFA Chair Clarke Carlisle, and Piara Powar, director of European anti-racism body Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE).
“We will make sure Rio Ferdinand’s rights as a human being, never mind as a footballer, aren’t undermined in this,” promised York defender Carlisle.
“Everyone has a right to free speech – just like you can’t coerce anyone into shaking hands, you can’t make somebody wear a T-shirt. There are two sides to this one. First of all, Sir Alex Ferguson is continual in his unwavering support for the Kick It Out campaign, which is commendable, but you can’t vilify or coerce any individual for making a stand.
“I would sincerely hope that Ferguson now speaks with Rio Ferdinand, asks him why he wanted to make that stand and hopefully supports the position he is in and it isn’t seen as a player-against-manager situation.”
What contrast between Ferguson’s reaction and that of Reading manager Brian McDermott, with the 51-year-old mature in his support for Roberts’ stance. The very same striker who came under heavy fire from Ferguson on Friday, with United’s manager labeling Roberts a “sheep” that had “wandered off course”
“Jason had his view and it was very strong view,” retorted former Arsenal player McDermott. “We spoke on Friday and I totally respect [Robert's] view. It was important for him to do what he did today. I one hundred per cent back him.”
Meanwhile, Powar – once a director at KIO – pointedly said via Twitter that “on this weekend of counter-protest some people still don’t get it. Old-skool racists, administrators and ‘leaders’ all still struggling.”
In that Powar is less than opaque in his criticism of Ferguson. The Scot’s support for KIO is manifest, but his understanding of the debate’s nuances is seemingly poor. After all, while Ferguson is keen that the “sheep” stay in line, coerced unity is no confederation of the willing at all.
To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, in matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. In that there is an essential truth. Ferdinand’s stance is both genuine and sound, no matter how unpopular it is in Old Trafford’s hierarchy.
After all, there is no mutual exclusivity between directing anger at those whom perpetrate racism, and those who now do too little to eliminate it from the game. The majority may have worn KIO’s t-shirt this weekend. For those that did not, it is an organisation with much to prove.