Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Soccer Semantics

So, England and Chelsea captain John Terry will face criminal charges relating to alleged racist comments to QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, the Crown Prosecution service have confirmed. Luis Suarez, the Uruguayan striker currently plying his trade for Liverpool FC, has been banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 for using what has been deemed a racial slur during a clash with Man Utd defender Patrice Evra. The beautiful game shows its ugly side again. 
Whilst the Suarez incident was apparently not overheard by other players or match officials, Terry’s alleged misconduct was viewed by millions on YouTube. Interestingly, neither has denied using racially charged language. Terry claims his comments have been taken out of context, that he was actually repeating something that Ferdinand had accused him of saying, by way of denial. Suarez’ defence is more of a cultural clarification. He freely admits calling Evra a “negro”, but says that in his native Uruguay it is not a derogatory term.  The Oxford Dictionary defines a Negro as “a member of the black or dark-skinned group of human populations…” So far so good, but it goes on to say that the term is now “often considered offensive”. No kidding. As Suarez earns £80,000 a week, one imagines he has a highly impressive book collection, but not yet a dictionary, it would seem.
The FA has spent time, money and celebrity endorsements aplenty combating discrimination. Racism’s a stain that works into the fabric of a society, untreated it becomes commonplace, and therefore invisible. Although unseen, it is felt, often silently borne. On the flipside of course, lies the potential to fabricate a situation for one’s own ends. And somewhere in the middle of all that is the truth, if you can find it.
In football, as in politics, there is the tendency to react even to moral issues along party lines. The blue team’s accused, the red team bays for blood, and both wait to see how many headline inches will be thrown at the problem before it blows over or blows up. Sadly, Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas has promised to stand by his captain “whatever the outcome”. Liverpool take a similar stance over Suarez. Assumption of innocence until guilt is proven underlines our humanity, but stoical support of an individual in the face of acknowledged prejudicial behaviour is tantamount to endorsement of the prejudice itself. But economics trumps ethics every time. The club is a business, the player’s an asset, the rest is irrelevant. Without prejudging the eventual outcome for the players involved, if, as a society, we can’t hold China to account over human rights abuses because we want cheap fridges, how seriously will we really sanction these feral offerings from our footballers?  

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