Tag Racism

Tag Racism

Red Issue 1 – 0 GMP

February 25, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 3 comments

When Greater Manchester Police seized 1,600 copies of Red Issue prior to Manchester United’s fixture with Liverpool earlier this month not only did the service spectacularly fail to understand a tasteless joke, but it engaged in dangerous restriction on freedom of speech. That much has now been recognised, with the Crown Prosecution Service confirming on Saturday that no criminal charges will be made against Red Issue’s editors or the fanzine’s distributors in respect of the seizure.

For those unfamiliar, Red Issue’s February back cover depicted a cut-out-and-keep Klu Kluz Klan hood, with the words “LFC” and “Suarez Is Innocent” emblazoned in red; an image apparently designed to mock the perceived failings in Liverpool fans’ attitude towards racism after the Luis Suárez affair.

The joke was crude, simplistic and, in leveraging an organisation that murdered hundreds of black men, women and children, most likely offensive to those who genuinely suffered at the KKK’s hands. This, however, was never the issue at hand. Whether readers found the fanzine’s joke funny or offensive is irrelevant; whether it was legal was the only pertinent question.

Yet, the GMP didn’t see it that way, seizing more than a thousand copies prior to United’s Premier League fixture with Liverpool at Old Trafford on the pretext that both racial hatred and potential violence may ensure if copies were allowed to be distributed to match going fans.

“Shortly before kick-off we were made aware that a Manchester United supporters’ fanzine being sold outside Old Trafford featured a potentially offensive image,” proclaimed a GMP statement on 11 February.

“Officers are now seizing the fanzines and in consultation with the Crown Prosecution Service we will take appropriate action against anyone either found selling this particular fanzine or provocatively displaying the image in public.”

The force’s action proved to be a red herring though, with the CPS – the body that decides whether criminal charges are to be filed in any case – rejecting the opportunity to prosecute despite GMP’s crass pre-judgement.

“I have decided that no further action will be taken in relation to allegations surrounding the publication and distribution of the Red Issue fanzine at Old Trafford football ground on February 11 2012,” said Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North West on Saturday.

“During the investigation into the matter by Greater Manchester Police, the issue of potential incitement to racial hatred was raised. As a result, I consulted the CPS’s Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, who are responsible for advising on suspected cases of incitement.

“Following this consultation, I have received advice from a senior lawyer in that division that, although the fanzine distributed may have been offensive to some people, there was insufficient evidence to prove that the content was intended to stir up racial hatred, or that it was or likely to do so.

“I have therefore concluded there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for incitement to racial hatred against any person. It is not a crime to possess material that is threatening, abusive or insulting, or hold views which others may find unpleasant and obnoxious. It is a crime to distribute this sort of material to the public, if it is intended to stir up racial hatred, or in circumstances where it is likely to have that effect.”

Larger questions of whether GMP had the legal, let alone moral, right to silence Red Issue will now be asked. The CPS statement is a clear indicator that there was never enough, or in fact any, evidence that Red Issues’ joke intended to incite racial hatred, despite GMP’s position.

It is now relevant to ask how and why the decision to seize thousands of fanzines was ever made. After all, there is no confirmation that any complaint was made to police, and – apparently – no arrests were actually made on the day. Moreover, the service appears to have badly misjudged both the tone of Red Issues’ back page and its intended target.

Could a joke that aimed to ridicule the racist attitude of others ever, in turn, incite racial hatred itself?

GMP’s decision to seize fanzines appears to have been made without consultation, unilaterally, and largely on the instruction of a single superintendent. It was, surely, crude censorship of the most blatant kind, and has proven to be a dreadful own goal, with widespread condemnation of the service’s actions.

There is no word yet what, if any, action Red Issue will take now that the threat of prosecution is removed. The fanzine and its editors are legally clear, but the knock-on commercial effect to the publication and its suppliers may well be lasting.

Reprints of the fanzine were made prior to United’s fixture with Ajax last Thursday night, and a widespread internet campaign was launched by supporters on social networks. But questions will surely now be asked whether police interference in a private operation was justifiable.

Indeed, whether fans enjoy reading the magazine or not – found the joke at hand funny or not – condemnation of unilateral censorship is surely the only appropriate response. After all, Red Issues’ joke probably offended many – least of all the Liverpool supporters it was aimed at. That, surely, is the beauty of free speech; the freedom to offend liberally, without fear of state reprisal.

In that the GMP significantly overstepped the mark – the CPS’ decision not to prosecute underlines the mistake made by Manchester’s men in blue. Uniforms, not kits, that is.

Liverpool loses dignity, respect and legitimacy

January 4, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 92 comments

So the arguments are done, the verdict filed and the report offered: all 115 pages of it. And the ban – eventually – accepted by Luis Suárez and Liverpool for the Uruguay international’s racially motivated abuse of Patrice Evra on 13 October. Except they haven’t. Not really, with club and player still protesting innocence, defaming the Football Association and Patrice Evra in the process and, in full conspiratorial mood, suggesting evidence was deliberately missed by the independent panel. No genuine apology has been offered or ever will be by the Merseyside club or player for Suárez’ abuse of the United defender 10 weeks ago.

The truth, as established by the Independent FA Regulatory Commission is that seven times Suárez aimed abuse at the United player. Seven times he did so by referring in derogatory terms to the colour of the Frenchman’s skin. The facts, as former Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez once famously said, are no longer in doubt.

But the truth, it was once said, should never get in the way of a good story. Indeed, it has been one of the most disgraceful episodes in Liverpool’s history as the 119-year-old club set about deliberately prejudicing the most sensitive hearing the FA has held in years. From the get go, so the FA’s report tells us, Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish slandered Evra, accusing the Frenchman of “doing this before” – an erroneous and offensive, but widely spread, piece of misinformation that the Senegalese-born Frenchman had made previously false accusations of racism. He hasn’t. Ever.

Meanwhile, the club issued a series of media briefings aimed at winning not the hearing, but in the court of public opinion, while constructing a case that we now know was built entirely on a lie. The lie that in Uruguay all instances use of the word “negro” is acceptable. The Commission, aided by two linguistics experts, systematically dismantled the excuse over 115 pages of the most thorough investigative report English football governance history.

Kenny Dalglish

Yet, Dalglish and player are steadfast in their refusal to fully apologise; utterly insistent that a widespread conspiracy, involving Manchester United, the FA, an Independent Commission and the media has taken down their man. Injustice they cry! It is has become a cult of total denial; a collective mental illness, led by the clan leader, Dalglish, who is taking hordes of followers with him.

“Ask a linguistic expert, which certainly I am not. They will tell you that the part of the country in Uruguay where he [Suárez] comes from, it is perfectly acceptable,” Dalglish told the media on Tuesday night.

He deliberately ignored the two linguistic experts used by the Commission that contradicted this position. The mind boggles.

“His wife calls him that and I don’t think he is offended by her. We have made a statement and I think it is there for everybody to read. Luis has made a brilliant statement and we will stand by him. We know what has gone on. We know what is not in the report and that’s important for us.

“I think it is very dangerous and unfortunate that you don’t actually know the whole content of what went on at the hearing. I’m not prepared, and I can’t say it, but I am just saying it is really unfortunate you never got to hear it. That’s all I’m saying. Wrong place, wrong time. It could have been anybody. I can’t answer for the FA, you ask them.”

Readers may be forgiven for thinking that, out-of-context, this is the rant of a madman, fuelled by suspicion, hate and delusion. Just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. Except this is no madman; Dalglish is quick-witted and in full control of his faculties, but still prepared to spread disinformation to the last. It is far more insidious than mere paranoia.

Almost universally outside insular Liverpool’s confines, the world of football has condemned the club for its stance. After all, Liverpool is a world renown institution that is a flag-bearer for English football. The club’s management should know better. And while United supporters can watch, dumbstruck by the utter ineptitude down the East Lancs Road, it is to football’s discredit that Liverpool has set out to destroy much of the work done to eliminate racism in football.

Voices of reason

Yet, the voices of reason will still hope that a recalcitrant Dalglish, perhaps prompted by the embarrassingly silent owner John W Henry, will eventually see sense. History suggests those voices do not hold their collective breaths.

“An apology would certainly help things because hen people do apologise it certainly moves things on,” Show Racism the Red Card chief executive Ged Grebby told Goal.com on Wednesday.

“I think that it would help the situation no end if he accepted that he had done wrong and personally apologised to Patrice Evra. If there was an element to this that he did understand the language differences then the easiest thing to do would have been to apologise.

“I think that Liverpool Football Club owe Patrice Evra an apology. They raised this issue about him having previous over the Chelsea incident when, if you look at that, it was two members of Manchester United’s staff that reported it. It was a legitimate incident. It wasn’t a red herring.

“The FA have sent out a really strong message to say that it is not acceptable in the game for there to be any kind of abuse where you are using people’s skin colour, religion or culture.”

Support for this position has come from across the football world, including those outside of a often parochial England. Indeed, for once the FA has set an example for which European nations can learn much. While racism is endemic in Spain, for example, the FA has taken a strong step in England.

Pressure from the FA?

And that is apparently a key tenet of Liverpool’s paranoid attack. That in seeking to take a strong line against racism, the Independent Commission has been pressured by the FA executive to, essentially, fake the findings of the report, an erroneously sanction Suárez. It is a nonsense that few outside of Liverpool’s fraternity will pay any heed to.

“Racial abuse between players on the field of play has been an unspoken taboo for too long, an area that has been unsatisfactorily dealt with by English football despite many cases over the past ten years,” said Piara Powar, Executive Director of Football Against Racism in Europe.

“We would also call on Liverpool FC to think again about their public campaign to dispute the charges and contest the principles involved in the case. As a club with an international standing the vehemency of their campaign is unquestionably causing them reputational harm, and has lead to Liverpool fans to become involved in a backlash of hatred on web forums and other public arenas.”

Liverpool backlash

That backlash has included some of the most obscene racist and deluded thinking ever experienced in the English football community. Racism, it seems, is more alive than ever if the content created on social media sites by Liverpool supporters is a barometer. The sad irony is that those Liverpool supporters subjecting Evra, Stan Collymore and others to racist abuse, do so in the name of ‘supporting’ a player accused of the very same crime.

Liverpool has much to answer for. The storm of vitriol, deliberately whipped up by the club and Dalglish, has intensified because of United’s involvement. Victimisation is well practised in Liverpool, but ‘injustice’ at United’s hands could never be accepted. Dalglish’s tweet, for example, when the panel’s verdict was announced shortly before the New Year that Suarez should “Never Walk Alone” pandered to the masses in crudest fashion.

It is a dangerous time for the game, concludes Professional Footballers’ Association chairman Gordon Taylor, who warns that racism is a curse that football must collectively challenge. Seemingly, in spite of Liverpool’s intransigence.

“Some issues are bigger than a player, the club or the game and racism is one of those. We have to learn from it and there should be no misunderstanding or ambiguity in the future,” adds Taylor.

“You don’t want such issues to divide clubs or society. We’re all in a football family but we’re all under the law of the land. Once a penalty has been paid and carried out we move on in a positive manner to make sure the penalty acts as a deterrent. The educational process continues.

“We all know the word ‘negro’ can be taken to mean a very inflammatory word. Any reference to the colour of a person’s skin has to be eradicated. In the heat of battle things can be said, but sometimes they go beyond what’s acceptable.  We have had 20 or 30 years of campaigning against racism. I hope we can move on from this and learn our lessons.”

Sadly, it is a lesson unlikely to be heard on Merseyside if the past two months is a barometer. One of England’s finest clubs, mired in hate and paranoia. Now devoid of dignity, barren of respect, and when it comes to race relations, without a shred of legitimacy.

Blatter enters, and then fuels, race debate

November 16, 2011 Tags: , , , Opinion 21 comments

Race, it seems, is top of the editorial agenda after (insert obligatory ‘alleged’ here) incidents involving Luis Suarez and John Terry in the past month. Each is seemingly a sad indictment of the English game, where racism it appears, still thrives. Suarez, claims Patrice Evra, called the defender a “n*gger” at “least ten times” during Manchester United’s visit to Anfield in September. Meanwhile, Terry was caught on camera calling Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand a “black c*nt”. The only debate is whether Terry’s excuse of context (“No I didn’t call you a…”) is genuine or not. Ferdinand, and his big brother Rio, have been deafening with their silence on the matter.

Disturbing though the incidents are it says much for our lack of progress in combating racism that the clubs and supporters involved have divided largely along partisan lines. To Liverpool’s management, Suarez’ innocence was never in doubt. So much so, that manager Kenny Dalglish has repeatedly called for “the accuser” Evra to face sanction. Meanwhile, Liverpool supporters have engaged in an orchestrated smear campaign against Evra with erroneous ‘evidence’ of the Frenchman repeatedly ‘playing the race card’ distributed liberally by more vocal Scousers.

On Wednesday the FA charged Suarez with using “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra contrary to FA rules.”

Similarly, Chelsea and the club’s supporters have unilaterally backed Terry’s claim of misunderstanding. Indeed, Chelsea fans were audibly chanting anti-Ferdinand slogans as the Londoners met Genk in the Champions League. Would United supporters behave differently if, hypothetically speaking, Wayne Rooney faced a similar charge? It is a question that supporters should honestly ask and answer.

In fact the controversies of recent weeks have unveiled the shroud of denial about racism in the game. One need only peruse popular social media sites to discover a tsunami of bigotry among match-going fans. Ferdinand was subjected to the worse kind of racist abuse on his own account, from the very supporters defending Terry.

No wonder, with denial coming from the very top: Sepp Blatter, who claimed in an interview with CNN that racism does not exist in football.

“I would deny it. There is no racism,” Blatter told the news station.

“There is maybe one of the players towards another, he has a word or a gesture which is not the correct one, but also the one who is affected by that. He should say that ‘this is a game. We are in a game, and at the end of the game, we shake hands, and this can happen’, because we have worked so hard against racism and discrimination.

“I think the whole world is aware of the efforts we are making against racism and discrimination. And on the field of play sometimes you say something that is not very correct, but then at the end of the game, the game is over and you have the next game where you can behave better.”

Blatter apes the views of more than one prominent pundit, with racist language justified on the basis of ‘banter’ or ‘high emotions’. It says much for the neanderthal element still present in our game. Indeed, the Daily Mail ran a bigoted ‘opinion’ editorial urging black players to “just ignore it” when subjected to racism and be “thankful” for the apparent progress made.

True, gone are the universal ‘monkey chanting’ and banana throwing of 1980s crowds. Racism has gone underground. Yet, surely, race should not be a matter for partisan support. Offence, if the accusations against Suarez and Terry are true, should be universal. That it is not says something for the road football has travelled, but more for the distance yet to go.

There is also a devastating charge of complacency to be levelled against the football community and, perhaps, the Football Association too. Certainly, the governing body’s dithering over both cases does not reflect well on the FA. That a number of prominent black players genuinely considered boycotting the Kick It Out campaign because of the perceived FA governance of the body (it is part financed but not governed by the FA) says much for the frustration felt within the game.

After all, racism is institutionalised in football, with so few administrators and coaches coming from the ethnic minorities, despite black players making up around 25 per cent of professionals in England. Fans of all colours should be ashamed of this.

Perhaps failure to eliminate racism in England is the result of a top top-down culture that embraces discrimination at its very core? After all women and homosexuals also face an institutionalised glass ceiling, and administrators not willing to work hard enough to eliminate discrimination. It is an industry that celebrates the macho and aggressive, and one wonders whether the football community – fans, players, administrators – will ever accept a player for what he is, and not his sexual orientation, background or race. Recent events have brought this into question.

More than 30 years since Justin Fashanu – the first gay professional to come out – was driven to his suicide football has seemingly achieved little. There is little serious attempt to do so from within the game, save for an FA sponsored video last year. That the governing body was unable to attract leading footballers to take part in the video paints just as vivid a picture. Gordon Taylor, president of the Professional Footballers Association, admitted last year that tackling homophobia is simply “not very high on the agenda,” while homophobic language is endemic throughout the football community.

The community’s reaction to the latest turn of events suggests that there is some way to go when it comes to racial equality too. While a presumption of innocence is enshrined in our legal system, there is little reason to believe that Evra is lying – the FA charge suggests the body believes his account too – or that Ferdinand uncertain about what he did (or apparently did not) say to Terry.

The FA is likely to set a very high bar for proof, keen as the body is to avoid all controversy. It takes genuine strength of will an authority to sit in judgement; something the governing body has long since lost. But now, more than ever, is the time for the body to truly govern our game.