John Barnes makes a number of interesting points in his Guardian article. I think they’re worth making and I also respect the fact he’s the one making them. He’s speaking as a black person, an ex-footballer, and someone who’s experienced racism. That perspective isn’t one most of us have so it’s important that he’s given the opportunity to express it. But there are a few things I’m not sure about:
- Barnes says he’s not interested in what happened to Toure and the behaviour of CSKA fans towards him, because there are wider issues to worry about. I get the second bit but it doesn’t mean we should ignore the first bit.
- Barnes goes on to cite the fact that there’s so few black coaches in the game, which is a very valid point and worth raising. But why does pushing for due punishment for the Toure abuse detract from that? It’s a separate but important issue. What happened to Toure is wrong and needs sorting regardless.
- Barnes asks why those at the top of the British game don’t care about people living in inner cities like Brixton. Is that really the job of the football association? Shouldn’t they primarily focus on racism in football? I’d suggest Barnes focuses his ire on the government and what they’re doing regarding disenfranchised minorities. Football can help, but it’s not within its remit to implement change outside of the game.
- Barnes again brings up the lack of black managers in the game, thereby sandwiching the plight of black people living in under-privileged areas with the problems facing ex-footballers. So black players facing racism in football isn’t important, but black ex-players facing racism in football is important? I hate to say it but Barnes could be accused of belittling Toure’s situation and yet lamenting his own.
- Barnes then says he doesn’t blame Suarez or Terry “for what they did”, because they are products of society. I think that’s bullshit. We are all products of society and there are definitely some widespread and incorrect perceptions that need addressing. But lots of people grow up in the same society not being racist. Barnes seems to be excusing racists, suggesting it’s not their fault. It is. They’re being racist.
- Barnes goes on to write this, which quite annoys me:
“That is why it is pointless, and pretty ridiculous, to be worrying about a footballer getting racially abused – in no way are they the biggest sufferers, and, quite frankly, if I was someone like Touré or Rose I’d feel embarrassed if I had to look at someone who was suffering genuine racism and take their sympathy. A millionaire getting booed in Russia is nothing compared with generations of people never getting the chance to better their lives and those of their children.”
…why the FUCK should Toure or Rose feel embarrassed for complaining about facing racism. Surely they are sending a positive message to everyone in society: don’t stand for any form of prejudice. It doesn’t matter who are are, how much money you earn or what job you’ve got - there is no excuse for being racially abused and if someone does that to you, you should complain and demand punishment.
A footballer being racially abused during a football game doesn’t just affect him. It doesn’t just make him feel like shit. It makes black people in the ground feel like shit. It makes people watching on telly feel like shit. Even people in inner cities. It pricks and it hurts. So Toure taking a stand is important. It’s behaving in a way that’s admirable and will hopefully encourage others to have a zero tolerance to racism or any prejudice.
As I said, Barnes makes some thought-provoking points in his article and it makes for an interesting read. But he’s dismissing the hatred Toure has experienced because he’s rich and athletic and a “beautiful black footballer” (as if that makes him immune to being hurt), and yet bemoaning his own problems as an out-of-work black coach due to what he feels is institutional racism. I don’t understand why one situation is somehow more valid than the other.