Suck my d**k, you n****r, you n***o’

Offended by the title. And so you should be, but what are you going to do about it? Complain?  What if you heard your team-mate say it to an opponent?  Would you complain then?  Are you an honest, fair, person? Or are you worried that you will be viewed as a ‘snitch’? Which is it and what would you do?  Read on and see if you article effects your viewpoint.

The next time you get fouled and are sitting on the floor: think of what happened to Rhian Brewster a few weeks ago:

“I was on the floor and I had the ball in my hands. One of their players started saying stuff in Russian to the ref. I said: ‘It’s a foul, man, what you playing at?’ I was still sitting down at this stage. Then their player leaned over me, right down to my face and said: ‘Suck my dick, you nigger, you negro.’

This is football in 2018. ‘Unbelievable, unacceptable, not on’, you may say.  But what are you going to do about it?

Brewster is a World Cup winner with England’s Under-17s, as well as being the owner of the golden boot from the same tournament.  Brewster, a young man trying to break his way into the Liverpool 1st XI may be a teenager in age: but his experiences of racism and racist attacks make him more experienced than most men.

The footballing world needs to listen to this young boy. UEFA, FIFA, the FA and all those at the top.  But players also need to pay attention.  How can anyone allow this kind of abuse to continue?  To a friend, opponent, but more importantly, a fellow human being.

History of racism in football is disgraceful: but the fight to beat it continues. Figures from years gone by have shown how to beat the racists.  Remember the John Barnes photo of his having bananas thrown at him when playing for Liverpool?  His reaction?  Eat the fruit:  pure class!

But Brewster has not had 1 incident of racist abuse. He has had five in seven months: Two while playing for England and one in the World Cup final when, he can vividly remember one of his team-mates being called a “monkey” by an opposition player.

Brewster has the backing of his parents: and their concern. They want action and for their son to be treated like a talented footballer on the pitch.  Not a victim of racism.  They don’t want it to keep happening. And they’re angry because nothing has been done about it.”

 

In May, England played Ukraine in Croatia. Brewster got into an argument with the opposition goalkeeper and got called a ‘nigger’.   The FA complained, but with no video evidence, no action was taken by UEFA.

 

In September, Liverpool Under-19’s played Sevilla at home. He was called a ‘Nigger’ again.  This time Brewster was walking off the pitch when he was stopped by his manager, Steven Gerrard.  Despite a complaint to UEFA, no action resulted.

 

Two weeks later Liverpool were playing in Russia, against Spartak Moscow. Brewster’s was being substituted and Nigeria-born Bobby Adekanye ran onto the pitch with monkey chants from the crowds.

Sir Herman Ouseley, chairman of Kick It Out said, “Rhian has been very courageous. A guy has come out and told us exactly what is going on. Are the institutions going to fail him? Is that what the fans going to Russia are going to see at the World Cup? People might say it is a 17-year-old who is not yet playing at professional elite level – well, hello, that [the lower age levels] is really where the problems begin.”

Players suffering from racism on the pitch need to be supported. They need backing, so that their complaints are heard and colleagues and witnesses need to come forward.

 

Brewster has received support and backing from many at Liverpool. The owners, academy director, mentors, players and the Liverpool Manager. Jurgen Klopp, sums up it up:

 

“I am really happy he is brave enough, and he needed to be brave, to do what he did because it is such an important thing,” Klopp said. “I really can’t believe people still have these thoughts in their mind now. It’s so strange that it happens in this world now and we need a 17-year-old boy to shout out and say it is still happening all the time and that we need help to stop it. We are really happy he did that but it is not a situation you want a 17-year-old to be in. If he needs help we will give it to him.”

And you are living a lie if you say that racism in football is a European problem and not one experienced in England. Speaking recently about fears that racism could overshadow this summer’s World Cup in Russia, Gareth Southgate the England Manager said England

‘”must get our own house in order” on racism before making accusations about other countries’.

Racism is a criminal offence. If found guilty of racism or other offences that are aggravated by racism, a person can face imprisonment.  Racially (or religiously) aggravated offences mean that those found guilty of these offences can have their sentences increased a great deal.  The sentence can increase depending upon the nature of the racial hostility, duration and locality, whether it is planned, part of a pattern of offending, part of a group, the setting up of the victim to humiliate and offend, the effect upon the victim and the family and so on.   If society deems it unacceptable and the law says that it is such a bad offence that people should be punished properly for its effects, why do we feel that our footballing ‘colleagues and opponents’ are above the law?

If this criminality is not acceptable in society, why is it tolerated on the football pitch? Why do the players, peers and the football authorities not punish those who are harming our game?  And why do players and colleagues not come forward to report other players?  Is it more important not to be seen as a ‘snitch’?  Is it better not to report a racist?

There is even enough legislation to charge and punish those within the footballing arena. If anyone is caught making of racist chants inside the football stadia, they can be charged with offences under the football (offences) act 1991.  This can lead to a variety of punishments including football banning orders.  But what about incidents like what Brewster suffered?

The FA Rules make clear the punishment available to the officials on the pitch for “fouls and misconduct” under Law 12:

A player, substitute or substituted player who commits any of the following offences is sent off: (…)

using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures

So why do officials not act upon this? Look at the numerous incidents Brewster has suffered.  Or worse still, booking players like Mario Barotelli who complain about racism being used against them?

The reason is, witnesses: players, supporters and officials are unwilling to come forward as witnesses.

Football is a sport that is played out in stadiums full of tens of thousands and on television in front of millions: in effect, in public.  Is racism on the pitch not a public offence?  Are the offences on the pitch above law?

Earlier this month, Cyrille Regis passed away. The former England player fought racism and was one of the leading figures in the 1970’s and 1980’s.  Little would he have expected that come 2018, a young Liverpool starlet who has represented his country in an Under-17 World Cup victory, would suffer the same kind of racism.

Football has come a long way. Players get paid a lot of money, stadiums are modern, footballers fitter, kit more aerodynamic.  But racism, the problem remains from a distant past.  The word “nigger” is as offensive now as it was in the 1970’s, the 1870’s and before.  Let’s fight racism together.  For the sake of society, football and the human beings who are victims of it.

Now ask yourself. Would you report your team-mate for racism now? And if not, why not?

Yasin Patel is a Barrister and a Director of SLAM (Sports, Law & Media) who look after athletes needs: contracts, advice, image rights to disputes. And human rights as well! (www.slam.global).