It is time that Black football players take the initiative against racism in the game, says Lord Herman Ouseley, Chairman of Kick It Out, in an interview with IRR News.
IRR News: Why do you think the incident with Spanish fans happened at Bernabeu last month? Was it because of Aragones’ earlier comment about Thierry Henry [being ‘a Black s**t’]? Or why now?
Lord Herman Ouseley: The problem in Spain, of Black players getting booed and monkey noises, has been going on for years. It is not new. Kick It Out is part of an anti-racist football network across Europe and that network has asked us for help before on this. But because of Aragones’ comment, it made it appear as if this crowd racism had got some sort of official approval.
IRR: Have you become aware recently of other countries or other European clubs where such racism is rife?
HO: Black players are being booed like this on a regular basis in many of the fixtures in Eastern Europe and also in Portugal (and that is despite the fact that there are Black players in Portugal’s leagues) and also in areas of Italy.
Part of the problem lies in the way that UEFA has been so lilly-livered in its way of dealing with it. It only acts on complaints it receives, not on reports from its observers. And FIFA has been very poor and not done anything about it.
It is time, too, that Black players themselves took the initiative. The Black players of Arsenal should have insisted that they would not play in Europe till they got a full apology to Henry from Aragones and until the Spanish FA reprimanded him. Black players in national sides (in England and France) and in the Premier League are in a very strong position now to say that there is no way this kind of racism can continue, that they won’t take it any more.
IRR: So what would be your solution for such behaviour?
HO: We have got to empower officials – referees, linesmen and observers – at competitions to deal with any racist comments there and then. And, if necessary, to then take the players off the field. It is only in Holland that games have been stopped, where officials have that power to deal with racism decisively. The players’ union is also in a strong position to condemn racism and advise its players to speak out against it. The players should demonstrate their abhorrence of racism, by walking off the pitch if necessary, but they need to be supported by the FA, their manager and their captain.
IRR: Which initiatives have gone furthest in combating racism in English football?
HO: It is no one thing, it is all part of a long-term project and tackling racism in football can’t be done alone because we have to realise how strong the power of the media is. The way of tackling racism in football is about long-term educational work – with fan groups at the local level, with the organisations that represent the game and then getting all the groups to work together. We have worked hardest with the fan groups, I suppose. But we recognise the need for educational work at all levels of the game – working say with security staff, having plans in place to ban racists from grounds, making sure that those found guilty are fined. It means working with everyone from fans and officials to the players themselves. Some players, for example Ryan Giggs, go into schools on a regular basis to discuss issues of racism.
IRR: Are there particular areas of the game in England where racism is still very prevalent?
HO: We have always been concerned about the racism that goes beyond the pitch. We need to see more Black and Asian stewards and we need to see more Black and Asian fans, too, and of course Asian players. And then there is the fact that the board rooms, the management teams, the merchandising side of the game are still very White. All that needs still to be changed.