|Kenny Dalglish and Liverpool fans lashed out at harsh punishment Suarez received from English FA [GALLO/GETTY]|
Due to the ongoing racism scandals surrounding Luis Suarez and John Terry, football players have once again found themselves in the spotlight this week.
On Tuesday, Suarez of Liverpool fame was handed an eight-match ban by the FA after being found guilty of racially abusing Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
On Wednesday, the focus shifted to Chelsea’s John Terry, who was charged over allegations he racially abused QPR’s Anton Ferdinand during a tense match on October 23.
As Liverpool learn to live without Suarez, Terry will sweat it out on and off the pitch before a West London court decides his fate in February.
At first glance, it would be easy to mark this as a depressing time for football. However, if these individual cases are dealt with in the right way, these scandals could actually do the world of football a lot of good.
The harsh punishment dealt out to Suarez, and the seriousness of the charges around the England captain, suggest that the ugly side of football is at long last being put under the microscope.
Football players are being increasingly targeted for their behaviour because of one crucial reason: the message it sends to the fans.
As role models the actions of footballers, and the reactions to their actions, send messages to football fans. The fight against racism or any other abuse has to start with the players as they are the ones in the limelight.
While the extent of racism in the terraces is unknown, general abuse in rife.
All we need to do is look at the way Blackburn Rovers manager Steve Kean has been treated by the clubs supporters to see how far behind football is in the decency stakes when compared to other sports.
Passion has often been used as an excuse for awful behaviour from fans. Why, of course Blackburn fans swear at Kean from the stands, travel overseas to hold up signs saying they want him out, jeer at him as he enters the ground – they are just being passionate about their club!
While not all football fans behave badly, foul language will be as abundant on the terraces on Boxing Day as alcohol for many of us on Christmas day.
BBC journalist Phil McNulty poignantly writes this week in his blog about Steve Kean, “The argument goes that supporters pay their money and have the right to air their opinion, but even seasoned observers felt unease at an individual coming under such a barrage. It is called the human element.”
The human element is sadly something that doesn’t always naturally fit with football.
|Blackburn fans have shown manager Steve Kean very little respect over last few weeks [GETTY]|
In the 1980s, when hooliganism was rife and England football fans were feared around Europe, many accepted the terrible behaviour of our fans.
It has been far too long that people associated with football, whether players or fans, have been able to get away with behaviour that would not be accepted in the office or on the street.
This is a fact the English FA, and the British media, have awoken to over the last couple of years.
More than ever before managers are being fined for criticising officials, players for breaking club protocol, Sky Sports’ pundits sacked for sexist comments and FIFA execs banned from the game for cheating.
Through bans, fines and sackings, a stricter moral code is not just being sent to football players and administrators but to unruly fans. The key message being sent is: respect.
It is something that critics of Steve Kean should maybe mull over their mulled win before staging their next ‘Kean Out’ protest.
And also something Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish should also mull over his mulled wine before he leaps to Suarez’s defence, again.
Because the message of the FA’s lengthy punishment for Suarez is far greater than the effect it has on Liverpool’s Champions League aspirations.
An eight-game ban is a powerful message to any football player or fan who believes that racist terms should be used, ever.
Spies in our midst?
As someone who has attended England international matches, the language that circulates stadiums is shocking. A yob culture does still exist and it is one that can involve homophobia, sexism and racism.
The news that Tottenham Hotspur stewards plan to wear headcams at tomorrow night’s game against Chelsea to monitor “foul, abusive, homophobic or racist language” is a drastic action, but one that should be taken.
Racism is ugly and not what most football fans want linked with their sport, but taking nothing away from the seriousness of the issue, there are lots of ugly things associated with the beautiful game.
However, football organisations and the media seem to at last be sending a message that this ugliness is no longer acceptable, and quite right too.
Joanna Tilley is a freelance journalist working with Al Jazeera on the Sport website. She has worked at Sky News, Sky Sports News, LBC Radio. Sportasylum.com, TNT Down Under and Wanderlust magazine. Follow her on Twitter (@joannatilley) or her website, sportjostyleeee.blogspot.com.
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