By Chris Wright
Over the course of the weekend’s Premier League games, more than 30 players from eight different clubs refused to carry the logo of the Kick It Out campaign across their chests during their respective warm-ups in protest at a perceived lack of action on the anti-racism charity’s behalf following another stormy footballing fortnight with racial taunting at the fore once again.
Having gone on record questioning the wisdom of Reading’s Jason Roberts’ plans to boycott the t-shirt parade before the weekend’s fixtures, Sir Alex Ferguson was up in arms when a sheep from his own flock, Rio Ferdinand, did likewise – undermining the overlord’s will, breaking rank and challenging the imposed gestalt at Old Trafford.
It looks, if tabloid reports are to be believed, that Rio’s show of defiance may cost him heavily with one paper (The Sun, if you must know) prophesising that Ferdinand will be stung for £220,000 – two weeks’ wages and, coincidentally, exactly the same amount John Terry was fined for ‘racially insulting’ his younger brother.
While the magnitude of Ferdinand’s punishment is yet to be decided, it’s more than likely that the size of the fine will be determined by the fact that he publicly disobeyed the Almighty Fergie, rather than him refusing to back one of the Premier League’s ordained charities of choice.
“I always knew you’d betray me Rio”
Ironically, the decision of many players to wear their ‘Kick It Out’ garb has bought more exposure, for better or worse, to the cause than it would had the weekend passed without note. What would have been players milling around in yellow t-shirts suddenly became a sticking point – worthy of a second look.
From experience, most fans couldn’t care less what the players are wearing during the pre-match amble. It could be a ‘Kick It Out’ t-shirt, it could be a ‘REO Speedwagon World Tour ’80’ t-shirt. They all look the same from 100 yards away. In stark terms, the slogans printed and displayed on players’ shirts were and are never really going to make any difference in the plight to eradicate the blight.
Of course the t-shirts are just the ‘coal face’ of an organisation that continues to beaver away behind the scenes, but a t-shirt is not enough. They may be a quick, efficient method of informing the world that you thoroughly enjoyed your time in New York, admire the work of The Ramones or indeed wish to broadcast that the person to your immediate left is intellectually deficient in some way, but it’s not a potent way to change people’s attitudes toward racial discrimination and the like. Never has been, never will be.
Call it a show of solidarity if you will, but it’s little more than a cheap, easy and largely void gesture made by a campaign that doesn’t appear to have the sufficient power, opportunity or funding (FA or otherwise) to do anything more aggressive and/or effective to get its message across.
Of course, it’s not easy to criticise a campaign which is geared toward such a noble cause, but now is as good an opportunity as ever to give the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign an appraisal and a much-needed kick up the arse. They’ve done some fine work so far – football, especially in England, is so much more tolerant and encompassing than it was a depressingly short while ago – but that shouldn’t make them indelible to scrutiny.