The subject of racism in football is a controversial and pertinent topic and by investigating further, many issues that underlie this deplorable subject have been raised. These extend far and wide, from the local communities where adolescent footballers start their careers and the social and economic groups they reside in, to the supporters, right up to the institutions that regulate and control the very sport and people it is meant to protect.
The issues that exist in modern football have been extensively written about in recent years (Bains, J. & Patel, R. (1996), Holland, B. (1997), Bonna-Silva, E. & Forman, T. (2000) and McGuire et al, (2001)), to name but a few. There is no shortage of material on the concept of racism and this extends to, though to a substantially lesser degree, from the perspective of male adolescents’.
This wealth of information is unsurprising for two reasons. Football is debatably the most popular sport in the world, and therefore attracts media coverage and analysis. Secondly, racism is a global issue and still rife in society, let alone sport, and so with the two combined, it has created a marketplace, which has been duly filled with extensive research
To understand the contemporary issues rife in modern football, it must be understood that these issues first appeared centuries earlier when ethnic groups were first encountered by colonising white explorers, this is when the first stereotypes about black people were created.
One of the foremost problems that influences modern racism is the ideologies that exist regarding the roles and stereotypes placed on black people. Despite these issues being around for centuries, they are fundamental in decoding why racism exists in modern times. Harrison et al (2002, p.122) elaborate that ‘racial ideology has been entrenched in hundreds of years of history’, and because of this it has proved difficult to alter these discourses.
As Coakley (1998, p.253) explains, ‘white observers…..were convinced that people of colour were primitive beings driven by brawn rather than brains’ This inherent stereotype was used to explain why they were different, emphasising ‘black’ power; yet more importantly, ‘white’ intellectualism, and therefore, supremacy.
This Social Darwinist theory has evolved over time and the negative ideologies that existed have diminished due to burgeoning volume of sportsmen from ethnic backgrounds. However, many racial ideologies still reside in football and as Coakley (1998, p.256) realises, ‘ideology fuels hatred and ignorance around the world’. It is these ideologies and issue that shall be investigated in this research to gain a better understanding of racism in modern football.
Ethnicity is a key theme that undermines adolescent’s entry into the game of football and creates segregation, which in turn fuels rivalry and conflict with other minority groups as well as with young white males.
As Hill notes (cited in McGuire et al, 2001, p.66), ‘it was not until the 1980’s that one could identify significant numbers of black footballers’. However, professional football dates back to 1888 when the English Football league was created, so it is only in recent years that ethnic groups have been extensively ‘allowed’ to participate on a professional level.
One of the greatest issues surrounding racism in football, certainly in the professional leagues, is that of the institutional racism from the supporters of the game, the people on the terraces and in the stands. In the 1980’s, when players from ethnic groups became more common so did the amount of racial abuse they received from the fans. However, at the time, much was being done to deflate this discrimination; such as the Race Relations Act (1976), though racism was rampant for many years.
Years later, the abuse had still not disappeared, leading to the Football Offences Act (1991) coming into power to create a law against racist chanting. The Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) launched their campaign, “Lets kick racism out of Football” in 1993/94 to generate disapproval at racist chanting (Coakley, 1998, p.284). More recently, the CRE have worked together with Sporting Equals ‘to promote racial equality in sport’ (www.cre.gov.uk) and bring widespread condemnation of racism.
Despite this work of the CRE and many other organisations, racism still exists in the modern game, and is increasingly being directed at young, talented footballers.
This rapidly extends down to grassroots level and it is at this level of male adolescent footballers that this investigation shall review.
In 1975, there were 20 black footballers, in 1994, there are over 200 (Holland, 1997, p.262). In 2001, around 20-25% of UK professional players are of Afro-Caribbean Heritage (McGuire et al, 2001, p.66). Clearly the level of participation is growing in professional football, though there is still a clear under-representation of certain ethnic groups.
Jarvie & Reid (1997, p.211) suggest that ‘sport itself has produced stereotypes, prejudices and myths about ethnic minority groups which have contributed to both discrimination against and an under-representation of ethnic minority peoples within certain sports’
Kelso & Bhatia (2004, The Guardian), record that ‘a quarter of Asian football fans have experienced or witnessed racism at English football grounds’. This alone is indication that racism has not been stamped out in football.
This under representation can be clearly seen in McGuire et al’s (2001), ‘Young Asian Males’, where a range of factors are considered concerning the issue of racism. One of the key reports from another paper by Bains & Patel (1996), is that ‘Institutionalised racism plays a large part in reducing prospects for footballing recruits from Asian communities’
After the CRE worked towards kicking racism out of football, generally but not exclusively, this was having a positive impact on the game, and the inclusion of greater numbers of black footballers.
However, in recent years, the re-emergence of racist chanting in some quarters of Europe, not least in our own English League, has added to the racist debate. This widespread racism has had a good deal of media coverage in recent years, condemning the fans and institutions supposedly protecting these ethnic groups.
The Guardian (19th November, 2004) depicted the racist chanting; ‘every time (Shaun) Wright-Philips got the ball you could hear that sadly characteristic murmur you get in football stadiums when a coloured player gets the ball’
Shortly following this xenophobic incident, the police launched a criminal investigation into the racially motivated abuse including ‘monkey chants, obscene gestures and racist comments’ (The Guardian, 23rd November 2004) that Dwight Yorke suffered at the hands of the English supporters.
These fallouts from these cases, which have become more commonplace in recent years, have made a clear statement to the racist fans and the ethnic players. The fan who abused Dwight Yorke was ‘banned from every stadium in England and Wales for five years…..and fined £1000’ (The Daily Telegraph, 25th November, 2004), with the judge condemning his behaviour. Good precedents are being set by the governing bodies, which will surely have an effect on professional footballers, who will see that real attempts are being made to stamp out racism in English football.
The inherent racism that has resurfaced in the modern game has developed old form and the list of casualties is ever-growing. Perhaps the biggest issue in modern football is how this abuse affects adolescent males who have a future in football.
‘Adolescence is a time when one fervently seeks an identity’ (Harrison, 2002, p.126)
It is at this time when they are at the most developmental, both physically and mentally but at the same time, when they are creating their social identity, they are doing it amidst a cloud of negative stereotypes, ingrained in history.
As Harrison (2002, p.127) notes ‘of the few positive stereotypes of African Americans, sport performance is probably the most salient’. Therefore, many children navigate towards sport and at the same time look up to role models around them, for guidance and positive stories.
Jarvie & Reid (1997, p.218) concur that ‘black sporting heroes…..have become icons of cultural excellence…..symbolic figures’. At a time when racism deters and influences adolescences because of their young vulnerability, it is important that black role models exist for them, to indirectly encourage and support, to continue the prevalence of black footballers and to overpower and eliminate the racist minority.
McGuire et al (2001, p.67) note that a lack of role models is a key factor in explaining the low profile of Asian Heritage sportsmen. Without a figurehead to look up to, there is less inspiration and motivation; there is no one who has battled the racism and come through it to prove to young footballers that it is possible to triumph against the adversity of racism.
Sadly for the Asian community, this statement is true. For the black community, times have changed and there is now a long list of role models playing the game, coaching, officiating and campaigning against racism. This has helped players of this ethnicity immensely and it is only a matter of time before the young footballers of other heritage’s flood the game.
For some ethnic groups, it is not that the facilities do not exist, for they do; there are other cultural and social reasons for their lack of participation such as parental involvement and lack of role models. However, their lack of participation in the past fuels their current absence from the game now. As Adia (cited in McGuire et al, 2001, p.68) claims ‘professional football club perceive Asian footballers as physically and culturally unsuited to playing the game professionally as well as being less talented than players from other ethnic groups’.
It is these perceptions that prevent Asian footballers, and other similar ethnic groups from participating and competing and a professional level. Combined with this is the fear of actually entering a hugely competitive system where they feel they will be discriminated against and oppressed from the very start. It is no wonder that adolescent males are attracted away from this xenophobic culture into professions that offer attractive salaries without the racism.
Another convincing point made by Coakley (1998, p.270) is that the public ‘seem to see only the black male athletes who make high salaries in high-profile sports’. By observing the few successful black athletes, it is easy to ignore the racism, as if to sweep it under the carpet. Ultimately it does exist, and to deny it is to confirm the dominant racial ideologies that pre-exist.
As a result of the hugely, increasingly successful black male footballers, this has, to a large extent encouraged and inspired young black footballers to focus their attention on obtaining the same status. Although morally incorrect, the underlying message is that success, including wealth, inspires young athletes and can be a catalyst for their career.
Lack of wealth and poverty is not regarded as a barrier to young men playing football as the facilitation needed to play is relatively low. However, being of a lower socio-economic class can affect young male footballers from identifying with any role models that do exist.
This is not to say that Asian football does not exist, it does in large quantities, but like other ethnic groups, the racism they face in childhood steers them away from mixing with others which is why we see Asian teams and leagues. There is a sense of comfort in this, but marginalising themselves in this way reinforces the racism issue and does nothing to integrate culture, only creating a stronger divide.
McGuire et al (2001, p.77) summarise the issue that affects both Asian and other ethnic communities:
‘The interest is there, the talent is there. It only remains for the Asian community, the footballing authorities and the professional clubs to work together to harness that talent and give young Asians the chance to become Professional football players’
Much of the research has related to the creation of a social identity (Coakley, 1998; King, 2004), a ‘meaningful identity’ (King, 2004, p.20) through sport. It is only when this identity is challenged, because of racism, that it is questioned’ and in the more fragile and impressionable mind of a young man, this can have disastrous consequences in their future, the future of the game and the future of professional ethnic footballers.
Research performed by Bonilla-Silva & Forman (2000) concludes that whites believe blacks experience discrimination and they also believe it is due to a small number of prejudiced white individuals. To ameliorate the relationship between black and white and to prevent talented young footballers turning their backs on the national sport, it is clear that something has to be done from the terraces down to the grass roots and to face the issues that of racism in the modern game.
This investigation is not an attempt to bridge the gap in existing literature, nor does it breathe any groundbreaking knowledge into the topic. This research aims to provide an insight into the issues inherent in racism today and to what extent this affects male adolescents. With assistance from key texts and journals located in this review and combining a mixture of, largely qualitative data to ‘supplement and illustrate the quantitative data obtained’ (Robson, 2002, p.456) it will be possible to gain a greater understanding of the contemporary issues of racism in football, and to understand this from a male adolescents’ perspective.