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The Raheem Sterling saga is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Premier League's racism problems

Intolerance has been inextricably linked with top-level football for years.

Racism Sterling has been at the centre of a racism debate.
Racism Sterling has been at the centre of a racism debate.
Image: Martin Rickett

THE RECENT RAHEEM Sterling controversy has prompted a much-needed debate on racism in football.

After the Man City star was allegedly racially abused by a Chelsea fan at Stamford Bridge last Saturday, the England international took to Instagram to vent his frustration.

The player claimed that newspapers  “help fuel racism,” highlighting the way in which a footballer buying a house for his parents was covered differently in the cases of Tosin Adarabioyo and Phil Foden, a black and white footballer respectively, in separate Daily Mail articles.

Sterling himself has been on the end of some disgraceful treatment involving elements of the media — former players and Sky Sports pundits Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher spoke insightfully about this issue on the most recent edition of Monday Night Football.

Yet anyone who believes Saturday’s incident or the one the week before involving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are atypical in relation to modern football are at best naive.

In recent years, high-profile footballers such as John Terry and Luis Suarez have been among those embroiled in racism controversies.

There have been countless incidents of supporters behaving in a racist fashion — see here, here and here for starters. 

Even authority figures in the game have become embroiled in racism scandals, from directors of football, such as Tony Henry, to managers, such as Malky Mackay.

At a deeper level too, racism remains prevalent in football. It may not always be as obvious as it was 30 or 40 years ago, when players such as Clyde Best were threatened with having acid thrown in their eyes, or bananas were regularly being hurled at black footballers.

As former Liverpool star John Barnes eloquently put it earlier this week, “black people go through invisible banana skins being thrown at them and unspoken racial abuse every day”.

Even at the very top of the game, racism is starkly apparent, despite the hollow claims to the contrary by figures such as Sepp Blatter.

The United Arab Emirates, a country ruled by Manchester City’s owner and his brothers, has an appalling human rights record — homosexuality has been criminalised there, while women are routinely treated as second-class citizens.

Similarly, PSG and Barcelona are among the teams with close links to Qatar — another country where a disgraceful human rights record, epitomised by the abysmal treatment of migrant workers as the country prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Even look at some of the Premier League’s less-than-reputable owners of the past decade, such as former Birmingham City owner Carson Yeung, who was recently told to pay US$43.2 million (€38.2m) in crime proceeds or face another 10 years in prison.

These problems are rarely talked about and generally ignored in footballing circles, which in itself is a form of racism, and contributes to a toxic environment.

For the most part, the crimes and injustices are occurring far away and the entities committing them are incredibly powerful. While they are absolutely correct to do so, it is very easy for figures in football to condemn a random man in the crowd shouting abuse at a footballer.

Much more challenging is holding a club such as Manchester City to account for their perceived improprieties. Pep Guardiola’s club are an organisation helping to generate billions for TV companies and other media outlets. It is no surprise that some people would rather keep quiet as opposed to rocking the boat, as to speak out is extremely risky and may even jeopardise an individual’s employment.

The debate on the Raheem Sterling racism saga, which was so notable and refreshing last Monday on Sky Sports, felt like a significant step in mainstream media showing a willingness to address intolerance within football.

The reluctance to speak about about serious issues among football commentators was previously conspicuous.

Gavin Cooney of Balls.ie nicely highlighted the tepid British media coverage of the Russia World Cup and the brutal regime that backed it, in contrast with RTÉ and in particular Eamon Dunphy’s far more honest assessment of the unseemly politics lurking beneath the shiny surface.

The traditional excuse from football people is that ‘sport and politics should not mix,’ but the two have long been inextricably linked.

The Raheem Sterling incident is merely the tip of the iceberg amid an industry where racism and intolerance exist in increasingly subtle but nonetheless prominent forms.

Far more wide-ranging debates on the issue are necessary, rather than merely singling out obvious perpetrators, such as the Daily Mail and random supporters, as the more the football world stays silent, the increasingly complicit it becomes.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures (all matches kick off at 3pm unless stated otherwise):

Saturday

Man City v Everton (12.30)
Crystal Palace v Leicester
Huddersfield v Newcastle
Tottenham v Burnley
Watford v Cardiff
Wolves v Bournemouth
Fulham v West Ham (17.30)

Sunday

Brighton v Chelsea (13.30)
Southampton v Arsenal (13.30)
Liverpool v Man United (16.00)

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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