Why Rio Ferdinand Is Right To Protest Against Kick It Out's Toothless Campaign

Far from a publicity stunt, the refusal to wear "Kick It Out" T-Shirts was a valid protest against an organisation that has badly let players down....
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Kick It Out: We Should All Be Supporting Manchester United's Ferdinand & Reading's Roberts In Their Protest

“He’ll be dealt with, don’t worry about that”

Ominous words from Sir Alex Ferguson, a typical reaction when Manchester United players don’t follow his every whim. His many supporters will say that he is right to show punishment towards players for breaches of discipline but this doesn’t fit that billing in the slightest. This is a player making a deliberate political statement, a refusal to blindly follow the expectation placed upon him to support an organisation he sees as not working. It seems in the modern game the price of being a player is the sacrifice of opinion, players being intellectually castrated by the FA and their clubs alike if they dare express their, mostly inane, opinions.

Of course the reason for Ferguson’s ire is how foolish it made him look for his criticism of Jason Roberts electing to take a similar stance, one he lambasted. He portrayed him as something of a joke of a player, a bit part footballer more interested in getting into the studio than getting on the pitch. In Ferguson’s world where he is in charge of everything only a deranged egotist displays independent thought and breaks rank, then it transpired he had a similar personality in his ranks. By contrast Roberts own manager, Brian McDermott, fully supports his player’s stance on the issue.

Their slogan itself screams zero tolerance and yet the group, funded by the PFA, the FA and the Premier League itself, has achieved little but sloganeering.

The decision by several black players to not wear the anti-racist “Kick It Out” t-shirts is quite telling of the times in which we live. In the modern sanitised game many laboured under the delusion racism was gone, something that only happened in Eastern Europe, countries we who enjoy the English game in the Sky Sports era would label “disgraceful” and “primitive”. Then it reared its head once again and not just amongst fans but also amongst key players, including the England captain. Clearly all that had happened was that it had become less brazen, less easy to target and deal with than monkey chants from terraces.

Kick It Out as an organisation talk a good game. Their slogan itself screams zero tolerance and yet the group, funded by the PFA, the FA and the Premier League itself, has achieved little but sloganeering. There was no outcry when Suarez received a fairly lenient punishment for saying that “he doesn’t speak to black people”, being allowed to cite “cultural differences” as some sort of defence for the indefensible. They were fairly silent when he nearly sparked riotous scenes by refusing to shake the victim’s hand during their first meeting. The same is true of the embarrassing John Terry affair – a man caught on camera racially abusing the brother of an England colleague who proffered a defence the like of which is typically conducted by a twelve year old child caught swearing. His legal team delayed the trial so he was able to attend the Euros, not as captain though, but the decision that followed by the FA – although not the courts – will show that ultimately they were happy to have a racist represent them on the biggest international stage. They didn’t even have to wait for the trial to take action. They chose to.

Perhaps the silence from Kick It Out during these farces would have been forgiven and forgotten about were it not for the scenes in the U21 England Vs Serbia game, where young black players – particularly Tottenham’s Danny Rose – were subject to monkey chants throughout the game. At the full time whistle, clearly and rightly emotional, Rose kicked a football in frustration more than jubilation as England won in extra time. He was red-carded, attacked and accosted by Serbian players. He was pelted with projectiles from the stand, something that had also took place all game. Fans tried to invade the pitch to get at him. It was not a safe environment for a black player to be in, the same concerns that had been glossed over for the European Championships. UEFA responded by charging Serbia for their behaviour… And England. No-one defended the players who were the victims.

Is it not safe to say that they are an organisation founded on good will but completely toothless to tackle the problems they wish to abolish?

So, you would have to ask the question, what exactly do “Kick It Out” do when we exist in times where our senior players receive four match bans and pocket change fines for racial abuse and black players fear to travel abroad to certain countries? Is it not safe to say that they are an organisation founded on good will but completely toothless to tackle the problems they wish to abolish?

Indeed the organisation itself would seem to almost be an afterthought, the product of a focus group, as opposed to a genuine task force to finally stamp out racism from the global game. The organisation itself employs only seven people. That is seven individuals to tackle issues facing hundreds, if not thousands, of black footballers. Seven people to somehow remove prejudicial elements in the game that themselves are woven into the fabric of society. Their budget for last year? £473,180. To put that in context that is a month of Luis Suarez’s wages at Liverpool. How can it pose as being serious when the facts are so damning.

The majority of that comes from the FA. Is it any wonder then that the organisation is unable to speak out against the same body that issues these lenient sanctions, that undermines the “kick it out” slogan by adding “for a few games” to the end of it? Ahead of the annual “celebration” of the campaign, the same one that Ferdinand, Roberts and Kenwyn Jones opted out of, they themselves offered a mealy mouthed statement, a confirmation of their own impotence.

“We are not a decision-making organisation with power and resource as some people think, and can only work effectively in the context of these partnerships.”

Doesn’t an organisation that everyone has to support by proxy also lose any real validity?

The Kick It Out campaign then is about appeasement, the reality of organisations having to appear tough on institutional racism but without actually wanting the hassle, and expense, of having to follow through with that pledge. And in the absence of action more black footballers are abused, from the stands, when representing their country and from their own colleagues.

The John Terry affair ultimately cost Rio Ferdinand his England career. Even if you wish to argue that his best days are behind him, which they certainly are, the “football reasons” cited by Roy Hodgson were clearly about dressing room harmony. Indeed, how can you have a centre back pairing where one has racially abused the brother of the other? John Terry might want to believe he has been persecuted, but those willing to fight his corner clearly outnumbered those in Ferdinand’s.

How then can he pull on a T-shirt that promotes the illusion of progress? And how can anyone not think that we are right to ask questions about the validity and effectiveness of an organisation that has clearly failed in its remit, no matter how well meaning it might be? Doesn’t an organisation that everyone has to support by proxy also lose any real validity? Where’s the onus to ac tually be effective? Where’s the accountability?

These are all valid questions and one these players rightly want answered but you feel that there will be none forthcoming. Their public protest should be the means to get this discussion kickstarted, a means to start the process of change. If people like Ferguson have their way it will be simply glossed over as a simple matter of “player power” that needs to be stamped out. Clearly, it’s much bigger than that.

The PFA says the right to protest is one all players possess. Will they then take a stand against Ferguson when he “deals with” Ferdinand for expressing his opinion? Unlikely. The only protection these players are going to be afforded is in toeing the line and doing as they are told. Sounds alarmingly familiar, doesn’t it?

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