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Birmingham City host Race for Football National Roadshow

PANEL: Some of the speakers at Race for Football National Roadshow

FOOTBALL IS not above the law when it comes to racism and those who practise it need to be kicked where it hurts once and for all – enough is enough.

This was the determined message from a packed ‘Race for Football National Roadshow’ that held the second leg of its campaign at Birmingham City Football Club last night.

The event was organised by Birmingham-based Wayne Henry, chairman of Phoenix United FC, with backing from The Voice, the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL), the Black and Asian Coaches Association (BACA) and Leicester’s Nirvana FC.

An eight-strong panel, chaired by Birmingham community activist Desmond Jaddoo, included former international players Michael Johnson and Gary Smith and leading human rights barrister Peter Herbert, academics and Rosin Wood, director of Kick It Out.

And they all agreed that far more needed to be done to give racism the red card on and off the pitch, kicking out the elite and often arrogant image created by the football industry.

Valuable league points should be deducted from clubs that show a lax reaction to racism and an independent external body should be brought in when dealing with racist incidents.

Chuka Udemezue, of SBL said: “The FA needs a shock factor such as us taking them to court over these issues. They need to comply with the law. Organisations like ours are doing their job for them.

“Clubs would soon comply if they were forced to play behind closed doors with no supporters.”

Peter Herbert said: “Racism will only cease to exist when it becomes too ‘expensive’ for the football industry. At the moment it is ‘affordable’ because sanctions are not tough enough – a ten-month ban has to be the minimum. It all has to cost.”

Earlier he said that everyone in football had to be ‘empowered to do what is right.’ He added: “We want to live in a society which is proud of football, not ashamed.

“And those footballers who report something to the authorities should not be signalling the end of their career, but supported for showing courage.”

Former Blues player Michael John said he believed little had changed in making it easier for players to report incidents and there was little awareness of where these issues should be reported.

“When I was a player if you spoke out people thought you had a chip on your shoulder – you had a problem,” he said. “Nothing has changed. The reality is that football is a boys’ club – what happens in the changing room stays in the changing room. Football should not be above the law, but it is.”

But others argued that football clubs were employers like any other and the onus was on them to create the right conditions for their employees – the players – to feel confident enough to reports incidents.

Footballer John Elliott, given ‘big respect’ for supporting young players involved in the recent racist storm that has engulfed Notts County, said the incident provided the roadshow with a huge opportunity to finally win the war on racism.

“I believe that mobilised together we can make a change but it has to start at the very top,” he said.

He also warned of the loose term ‘banter’ adding: “Banter should be judged only by the person on the receiving end, not the person giving it.”

While Wayne Henry said more needed to be done at grass roots level to make local clubs more aware of how they can take action on racism.

Rosin Wood, Kick It Out (KIO) director explained that as a small independent charity with only seven staff, including one grass roots officer, she needed much more help to be truly effective.

Desmond Jaddoo, the panel chair urged everyone to email and lobby Sports Minister Hugh Robertson to keep the focus on racism in football, and to also email David Cameron urging him to put racism back on the agenda.

The next Race For Football roadshow will be held at London’s Institute of Education on July 10. An international football conference is planned in London on September 25, when America’s National Football League will also attend.


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