As John Terry is banned for racial abuse charges, some of the game’s leading academics, footballers and community leaders met in London to discuss whether sport does enough to challenge racism. Alex Lawson reports.
“The majority of players would not have done what I did,” says Mark McCammon. The former Swindon, Brighton, Brentford, Millwall and Doncaster striker has just finished delivering a heartfelt speech to an enthralled room including representatives of The FARE Network, fans, media, one of the BBC’s most popular sports commentators Ronald Macintosh and even Olympic triple jumper Larry Achike at the Institute of Education, describing his harrowing exit from Gillingham FC.
Former FA Cup finalist McCammon tells how he was hounded out of the club after being sidelined and refused treatment by chairman Paul Scally in what McCammon claims was a racist attack. McCammon refused a settlement of £15,000 by the club, taking Gillingham through the courts to eventually receive £68,500 following months without treatment and involving clandestine recordings and heated arguments.
Fears were expressed among an impassioned audience that McCammon’s case is far from isolated with poet and lawyer David Neita calling for a comprehensive understanding of racism throughout English football. Organiser and independent development consultant Michelle Moore, commended McCammon for his courage and heralded him a powerful role model for other footballers to learn from.
Professor Ben Carrington from the University of Texas said imagery such as Olympic athlete Tommy Smith’s black power salute in 1968 and Mario Balotelli celebrating scoring in Euro 2012 by taking his shirt off created iconography in the fight against racism.
Neita adds: “It’s not just about Balotelli. It’s about people all over the world who see him and we have an image etched on our memory,” he says. “It’s transformational.”
However, Carrington stopped short of demanding that black players should take on the fight against racism. He said high profile white players such as Frank Lampard or Wayne Rooney need to add credence to the cause against racism.
This superb seminar entitled Sport in the Dock certainly lived up to expectations and highlighted the critical discussions on race and sport and showed 2012 to be a year that displayed some of the best and worst of sports.
Prof. Carrington highlighted some key racist flashpoints in the last year, including the case of Liverpool fan Phillip Gannon who learned a French phrase to racially abuse Patrice Evra, and an Italian newspaper which depicted Balotelli as King Kong.
Neita called for fans to respect footballers’ place of work: “They have the right to work without racial harassment on the pitch. It means that the stadiums we have in Europe where problems occur are huge crime scenes,” he says.
In a wide ranging debate, UK football clubs were also urged to adopt the US NFL system whereby there has to be a black candidate for every major coaching position while the influence of the media was also questioned.
The president of the Society of Black Lawyers, Peter Herbert, welcomed John Terry’s spat with Anton Ferdinand as the incident and subsequent court case had raised the profile of the issue. “It lifts the lid off racism in the UK,” he added.
If Terry’s case has crudely prised that lid off a widespread issue in UK sport, then there’s still a long way to go. The impassioned debate goes only to show what lessons sport has to learn.
This extraordinary event was produced by Michelle Moore in collaboration with David Neita. The event was supported by The FARE Network and The Runnymede Trust and forms part of FARE’s Football Action weeks, which includes activities that address problems in football and celebrates diversity reaching out across Europe.
Sport in the Dock was part of a series of events called Does Sport Promote or Challenge Racism? for further information www.runnymedetrust.org
Tags: Anton Ferdinand, Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), Gillingham, John Terry, Luis Suarez, Mark McCammon, Patrice Evra, RESPECT