Michael Mansfield QC
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Racism in football
Players, fans and ethnic minority communities are abused regularly in football where far right activity is rife and National Football Federations are in denial of the problem.
There have been an increasing number of incidents where black players have been racially abused as portrayed in recent media articles not just by spectators but on the pitch by other players. The recent high-profile case of Liverpool’s Luis Suárez is one such case. Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 after being found guilty of misconduct for “using insulting words towards” Patrice Evra of Manchester United. Evra claimed Suárez racially abused him “at least 10 times”. Suarez’s only defence was, in effect, that ‘in our country – Uruguay – to call someone ‘El Negro’ is OK’. Suarez did issue a limited public apology but he did not apologise to Evra. This type of mentality by a professional international player who acts as a role model for thousands of people around the globe shows the extent of the poblems we all face. In addition the recent announcement that the England and Chelsea captain John Terry is to be prosecuted for a racially aggravated public order offence is a matter of great concern should the allegations transpire to be true.
In December 2011 the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) condemned the Liverpool and Chelsea Football Clubs for appearing to condone the alleged racism of Luis Suarez and John Terry. The organisation is urging the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to treat the Suarez affair as a racist incident and argues that there should be no difference in the treatment of the two players.Chelsea F.C. issued a statement, expressing their unconditional support after captain John Terry was charged with a racially aggravated public order offence relating to alleged remarks to Queens Park Rangers (QPR) defender Anton Ferdinand. Meanwhile, Liverpool F.C. has continued to defend the behaviour of Luis Suarez following the eight-match ban given to the Uruguayan who was found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.SBL Co-Chair, Peter Herbert OBE commented:“To our knowledge, neither club has bothered to conduct its own independent investigation or hold a disciplinary hearing. If such serious allegations of racism had been made in the workplace, any reasonable employer would consider itself to be under a strict duty to conduct a full, detailed and impartial investigation into the allegations, and not simply to state that they stand behind the denials of the player concerned.In November 2011 it was widely reported that Lord Herman Ouseley, the most influential and respected anti-racist campaigner in English football, was deliberating whether to quit the FA Council depending on the outcome of the investigation into England captain John Terry’s alleged abuse of Anton Ferdinand.
Lord Ouseley said. “Whether or not I have had enough of it all will depend on what happens next.The important issue here is that we have made great strides and progress over the last decade and a half in challenging unacceptable and racist behaviour and we are all very keen to maintain that momentum.It must go on beyond this incident and ensure we set the standards that must not be breached in the future. What is done on that score will determine what I do next.”
Chelsea Football Club have been forced to condemn more allegations of racism by their own fans following claims one of them called Daniel Sturridge a “monkey”. The alleged incident occurred during the 1-1 Champions League draw at Genk two weeks ago, the same game in which some of their travelling support abused the QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.Fans were heard chanting, “Anton Ferdinand, you know what you are”, in apparent support for the Chelsea captain John Terry, who is being investigated by police and the Football Association over claims he used a racial slur against Ferdinand.The unnamed fan – reportedly a well-dressed, middle-aged man – allegedly shouted, “They are bringing on the monkeys”, when 22-year-old Sturridge came off the bench and is also alleged to have joined in the chanting about Ferdinand.John Barnes told the Observer in February 2009 that he had to endure racism on a daily basis. Not just racism from opposing supporters, he stressed, but racism from inside his own team dressing room, on the training pitch and even in the players’ canteen.
“In training you would get abuse from your own team-mates,” Mr Barnes recalled. “They would call you racial names. ‘Eh, nigger.’ I would think, ‘Oh, whatever.’ It’s incomprehensible to people, but this was part of society.”
Before then, things were even worse for pioneer black players like Albert Johanneson or Clyde Best. As Sir Alex Ferguson succinctly puts it on the Kick It Out website: “The situation today is better than it was 20 years ago, and 20 years ago it was better than 30 years ago.”
That’s not to say that racism has been eliminated from football. It has not. Outside this country, as Rio Ferdinand has testified, things are often worse. This is supported by the disgraceful ignorance of the Fifa president Sepp Blatter’s in November 2011 when he claimed that there was no problem with racism in football and that those targeted should just shake hands with their abusers.
In Central and Eastern Europe problems of racism, and anti-Semitism in particular, are a part of every day life. The racist abuse directed at England’s black players in the Euro2004 qualifier against Slovakia in 2002 brought the issue to the attention of the international football community.
However, the problem of widespread racism in Central and Eastern European football stadiums had existed long before with black players playing in the domestic Leagues of countries including Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Romania being subjected to mass monkey chanting and being pelted with bananas every week.
The Bulgarian Football Union was fined €40,000 (£34,250) by Uefa for its fans’ abuse of England players during September’s Euro 2012 qualifier in Sofia. During England’s 3-0 win in Bulgaria sections of the home support directed monkey chants primarily at Ashley Young, but also at Ashley Cole and Theo Walcott. The Football Association issued a formal complaint to the BFU and the Uefa delegate at the game immediately after the final whistle, and Bulgaria were charged with “discriminatory behaviour relating to chanting by home supporters”.
The effects of racism are felt by thousands of people in Britain each day and destroys the fabric of our society built by generations. There must be a robust response and action by the Football Association (FA) and the Crown Prosecution in order to protect others from the humiliation, pain and suffering that this type of hate crime inflicts.
Tackling racism is more important than any player or any club can ever be. Players should be given appropriate diversity training outlining what is or what is not acceptable behaviour. Racist jokes or names should not be tolerated and managers must be trained adequately on dealing with such behaviour when it occurs. Furthermore those in a position of trust or in charge of regulating football must take appropriate and swift action with those involved in racist incidents. In this context it is vital that justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.
When individual football clubs and fellow players – both black and white – encourage and endorse racist behaviour, they themselves become part of the problem because they stand in the way to eliminating racism from the sport and from our society.
Facts of Note
1. Ten years ago you were 5 to 6 times more likely to be stopped & searched by police if you were black than white. Now the overall rate is about 7 times more likely.
2. The changing demographic profile of the population inside youth jails in England and Wales also shows an increasing proportion of young Muslims, up from 13% last year to 16%.
3. Young black men now account for nearly 40% of the population of youth jails in England and Wales
4. Between 2007 and 2011 there was a 37% reduction in white children in custody, compared with a 16% reduction in black and ethnic minority children.
5. Black people of all ages are three times more likely to be arrested than white people.
6. Black people constitute 2.7 percent of the population aged 10-17, but represent 8.5 percent of all those arrested in England and Wales.
7. Black people are just over six times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than white people.
8. Black young offenders are significantly less likely to be given unconditional bail compared to white young offenders and black young offenders are more likely to be remanded in custody compared to white reoffenders.
9. Black people and young people of mixed ethnicity, when sentenced, are more likely to receive more punitive sentences than young white people.