Sunday, 25 December 2011

Political correctness has coloured our judgment

By Rob Hughes, The Straits Times, 24 Dec 2011

ENGLISH football, and British justice, is going down a dangerous cul de sac.

After the Football Association announced an eight-match ban on Luiz Suarez, his Liverpool teammates to a man put on T-shirts to show solidarity with their top scorer. And to mock the FA's condemnation for allegedly using the word 'negrito' during an ill-mannered spat between him and Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

Within hours the Crown Prosecutor in London declared that John Terry, the England captain, must stand trial, accused of using a racist term on Anton Ferdinand two months ago. Terry's club, Chelsea, immediately announced that they were standing by their man.

'The only thing I know,' said Chelsea's coach Andre Villas-Boas, 'is that I will be fully supportive of John Terry, whatever the outcome of the situation.'

This tribal behaviour, the clubs gathering around their accused players, has the drawback of ignorance.

How can the Liverpool players all know whether Suarez, or for that matter Evra, used racially charged terminology in what looked a fiery exchange of ill temper between the two in the goal-mouth at Anfield?

The FA, in typical fashion, held a behind-closed-doors inquiry at a secret location. The panel, led by a barrister, issued the punishment but has yet to give a detailed statement of the 'crime'.

Yet Liverpool, led by Kenny Dalglish, circle their wagons and effectively say whatever he said, Luiz is one of us and we are with him no matter what.

And that, in as many words, is the stance of Villas-Boas.

By now, the whole world is having its say. In Uruguay, the broadcasters and newspaper headline writers blame English arrogance because, says Uruguay, the term 'negrito' can be used affectionately, and not just as a derogatory word, in their society.

One answer to that is Suarez is employed for millions of pounds - in England. He should play by the rules there, just as the Dutch took offence and banned him for biting the shoulder of an opponent when he was captain of Ajax.

I am no apologist for either Terry or Suarez. Both of them have done things that, to say the least, any reasonable parent would not wish their sons or daughters to emulate in the playground.

However, the FA judgment on Suarez is about to be tested on appeal. Terry will plead not guilty. And the nub of both cases could turn on one man's word against another's.

Leave it at that?

Not a chance. By the weekend, Alan Hansen, the BBC pundit and former Liverpool defender, was in hot water.

The Scot had tried to point out that England's league once could be deemed as having a colour bar. But, he added: 'There're a lot of coloured players in all the major teams and there're a lot of coloured players that are probably the best in the Premier League.'

All hell broke loose. The Twitter feeds of luminaries including rap artists and political activists called for Hansen to be sacked in time for Christmas.

The former Tottenham player Rohan Ricketts tweeted: 'Is this Alan Hansen guy taking the f****** p***? I'm not coloured??? He is part of the problem when using that word. We are BLACK, Alan!'

Ricketts might be black. But here's the problem: More than a third of the players in the Premier League are not eligible to play for England. And many of those who are cannot be described as white.

I thought we went through those barriers decades ago. I thought when John Barnes and Cyrille Regis played so wonderfully in the white shirt of England, though neither was born in the country, that England had grown out of the era of judging a man by his skin.

Nowadays, because of their technique and their talent, any man of absolutely any colour is more than welcomed, he is idolised in English football.

The game has done more than anything in our lifetime to promote integration. Of course racism still lurks beneath this harmony. But do you seriously think Suarez, whose grandfather was apparently black and who made his name among Amsterdam's cosmopolitan team is a racist?

Does Terry look like a racist when he hugs Didier Drogba or Daniel Sturridge after one of their goals win him another bonus?

Fifa president Sepp Blatter was condemned in October for suggesting that players who exchange rude words on the field should shake hands and make up at the end of the game.

The Swiss may not have got a lot right this year, but he made sense on this issue.

The alternative is to lose ourselves in political correctness.

Just where and when did we decide that blacks is the acceptable term to describe anyone who isn't white? Hansen's description, coloured players, may not be currently politically correct, but it is more accurate than the generic term blacks.

Or should he just dismiss any player from Asia, any South American of mixed race, any Cape-coloured South African who he wishes to suggest are among the best in the Premier League?

Much of the current confusion spreads from the United States where the word black became preferred when the N word was outlawed. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in Maryland, the civil rights group, still has Colored, in its title.

A spokesman explains that is because 'colored' was the most positive description commonly used when the organisation formed in 1909.

It's okay for the NAACP. But it is shocking from a football commentator?

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