Racism today: alive and kicking?

Saturday 20 October, 3.30pm until 5.00pm, Frobisher 4-6

Recently it seems football has been beset by a never-ending series of racist incidents: Liverpool’s Luis Suarez accused of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra; Chelsea’s John Terry prosecuted for the racially aggravated harrassment of QPR’s Anton Ferdinand; and numerous fans arrested and prosecuted for racially abusing players either at the match or on social media. So concerned was prime minister David Cameron that he held an ‘anti-discrimination’ summit to deal with the racism he felt had ‘crept back’ into football. The Professional Footballers Association, meanwhile, has called for the sacking of any player found guilty of racist abuse. But just how much of a problem is racism in football? Do the recent high-profile cases really indicate the widespread existence of racist attitudes in sections of society? Or is it the perception of what racism is that has changed?

There are certainly many who do believe that, in the words of one academic, recent incidents ‘remind us all that racism remains a day-to-day reality for many people’. Ex-Liverpool player John Barnes insists that ‘until we get rid of it in society, it will exist in all walks of society’. But some are less certain of the magnitude of the problem. ‘Times have changed’, argued Labour MP David Lammy earlier this year: ‘Racist incidents at football grounds are major news precisely because they’re the exception when they were once the rule.’ Still others suggest that not only have times changed, but the meaning of racism has, too. Since the 1999 Macpherson report into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, racism has been redefined as ‘any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person’. As a result, racism can be seen anywhere and everywhere, irrespective of the existence of intentional discrimination. So is racism really undergoing a resurgence? Or is it that the changing perception of racism makes it appear to be a problem? Does simply using racist words make someone a racist? Are we seeing a return of racial discrimination, or a crusade against bad manners?

And why is football so frequently the focus of official anti-racism? One of the Crown Prosecution Service’s leading prosecutors recently called for the football authorities to put a stop to ‘inappropriate crowd behaviour and in particular chanting’. Is it a good thing that the state, once the source of institutional discrimination, is now leading the anti-racist charge and seeking to educate those who attend football matches as to what is and what isn’t appropriate? Or is anti-racism simply about getting uncouth football fans to adhere to PC etiquette?

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Duleep Allirajah
sports columnist, spiked; Crystal Palace fan

Daniel Poohl
editor-in-chief, Expo; board member, Expo Foundation, Sweden

Syd Jeffers
senior lecturer in sociology, University of East London; Arsenal supporter

Sunder Katwala
director, British Future; former general secretary, Fabian Society

Geoff Kidder
director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters

Produced by
Duleep Allirajah sports columnist, spiked; Crystal Palace fan
Geoff Kidder director, membership and events, Academy of Ideas; convenor, IoI Book Club; IoI’s resident expert in all sporting matters
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