Published: 8 November 2011
By Aidan White
Everyone knows about racism in sports – on the terraces, in the dressing room and in the culture of institutional prejudice within the industry. But media often turn a blind eye to the worst of it, lowering the volume to avoid hearing the bigoted chanting of fans or passing up stories that might embarrass powerful people in sports who control a multi-billion global business.
But two current controversies highlight how some media are biting back. John Terry the captain of England is currently being investigated by police over allegations that he abused a black player and half a world away, in Australia, Steve Williams, a loud-mouthed golf caddy from New Zealand, has escaped investigation and punishment for calling his former boss Tiger Woods a “black arsehole”.
Golf’s leading administrators issued a statement condemning Williams for his “entirely unacceptable behaviour.” They solemnly voiced unrelenting opposition to any form of racism, but then, amazingly, decided to accept a half-hearted apology from Williams and to take no action against him.
This contrasts with their treatment of his victim earlier this year when Woods was fined £10.000 for bringing the game into disrepute by spitting on a green during a tournament. The message from the club-room bar is clear – the occasional bit of racist banter we can live with, but fouling the hallowed grass is just unspeakable. God forbid that we should confuse the two.
This sort of double-talk illustrates well how golf is run by white male elite, but it also highlights the hypocrisy that runs deep in all sports.
Some British newspapers reacted strongly; none more so than the Daily Mail and The Evening Standard. They have proved to be as hard-hitting as any of the liberal press in exposing the weasel words of the golfing establishment and certainly outshining the half-hearted reporting of the incident in the American press.
Parts of the British media are at last in the mood to challenge people in sports who like to minimise the notion that racism actually exists. For some weeks controversy has engulfed Chelsea’s John Terry, the beleaguered captain of the England football team, over a foul-mouthed assault on Anton Ferdinand in a Premier League match in October.
The YouTube video featured by The Guardian gives lip-readers the opportunity to decide whether he said “you fucking black cunt” or “you fucking blind cunt” as some claim in his attack on Ferdinand, a player for QPR and brother of Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand.
Since the issue arose football administrators and some managers have been fretting about criticism of Terry. After all, he’s entitled to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty, they say. Even my favourite manager, Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, has been ineffectual, finding excuses for Terry in “the heat of the moment” and the “passion” of the game.
It has largely been left to journalists to make the connections that count – that campaigns to “kick racism out of football” are meaningless if players, including multi-millionaire superstars, are not held to account. Terry’s association with this unsavoury incident means he shouldn’t be appearing in a shirt for either club or country until it’s resolved.
But the football establishment think otherwise. It’s only the persistent and unrelenting reporting of prejudice that will change their minds. Racism is the six-letter word that no-one wants to hear in the sports business, but the focus of strident and ethical journalism should be to bring it out into the open.