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PFA action ‘too little too late’ - Society of Black Lawyers

CONTROVERSY: Ferdinand and Terry during that fateful match last year

AN ACTION plan to deal with racism and inequality in football issued by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) in the midst of criticism from players is "knee-jerk", the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has said.

SBL, which is in open dialogue with US sporting organisations over equality initiatives, welcomed the PFA’s six-point strategy, but the organisation for black legal professionals, founded in 1973, said it had come too late.

Criticism was not just limited to the PFA; the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand incident was highlighted by the SBL as an example of the FA’s “weak response” to racism in football.

Clarifying its position, the SBL stated: “A judgment which condemns racist abuse but somehow manages to find a person is not a racist is illogical.

“People who are not racist do not make racist remarks when drunk, angry or at any time. Such flawed logic smacks of an organisation that fails to understand the damage racism does and is more concerned about salvaging the reputation of a white player who ought to have known better than dealing robustly with the offence itself.

“Such a decision and the soft sentence seriously undermines the whole credibility of the FA to combat racism at all.”

The group called for a “far stronger approach” to be deliberated by black footballers and authorities, adding the PFA and FA had “missed an opportunity to have an open, transparent and inclusive dialogue with black players who as far as we are aware have not been consulted in formulating this response.”

The SBL said the PFA's plan had to go further and proposed its own 10-point plan:

1. The FA to provide full support for the creation of a black players, managers and coaches association to help represent the interests of black players, managers, and coaches. The FA to support the hosting of an annual conference for black players, managers and coaches to address racism in football industry to be attended by leaders within the industry;

2. The adoption within 6 months of a clear sentencing framework for players, managers, coaches and clubs found to have committed, supported or colluded in racial abuse, and hate speech inside or outside the football ground by those associated with the club;

3. Specific directions and guidance to be given to referees and linesmen to have the ability to send off players immediately for racist abuse of any kind, with the power to call off the fixture if there is widespread and systematic racial abuse of BME spectators, staff or players, and to award the points to the opposing team where appropriate;

4. The expectation that if racial abuse is experienced abroad relating to football fixtures the FA will formally liaise with the British Foreign Office, complain to the Government concerned in the event of a failure to investigate the abuse and lodge formal complaints to the relevant UEFA or national football association concerned. The FA to adopt a policy of zero tolerance to racism experienced abroad with the power to call off fixtures until matters are dealt with appropriately;

CRITICAL: SBL wants more action taken against racism

5. The setting of a target of 20 percent for the appointment of all managers and coaches as well as club staff at all levels within a period of three years;

6. The publication of an annual league table of those clubs that have made the most progress in addressing racism through training, employment and spectator initiatives;

7. Racial abuse to be addressed as gross misconduct and as with all other forms of unlawful abuse to be an implied and express term of all football contracts for players, managers, staff, agents and coaches forthwith;

8. The penalties for racial abuse and other forms of unlawful abuse to be levied not only against the individual but against the club where such an incident occurs;

9. The implementation of a clear directive from the FA throughout the industry warning players, managers, coaches and staff of the need to maintain the highest standard of mutual respect for all irrespective of race, colour, nationality, disability, gender, and sexual orientation. Training to be mandatory for all clubs to address these issues within a two year period with performance monitoring and inspection annually by the FA of progress made.

10. The speedy resolution of all such allegations to be determined within four months irrespective of the players national or international commitments.
The first SBL proposal calling for a separate union for black players and coaches has divided those within the game. Anton and Rio Ferdinand distanced themselves from such a demand, plus other black players who refused to wear the Kick It Out shirts have refrained from calling for such drastic action.


The SBL's first proposal calling for a separate union for black players and coaches has divided those within the game.

Brothers Anton and Rio Ferdinand have distanced themselves any such plan, as well as other black players who refused to wear the Kick It Out shirts.

Reading striker Jason Roberts, who spoke publicly about his disappointment in current anti-racist initiatives, said he would prefer improving existing bodies.

“We should have a serious approach to representation. Kick It Out should be seriously funded. We should have a serious, properly funded and staffed equality department with strong leadership within the PFA”, said the player.

The PFA has staunchly defended its ability to deal with racism and provide greater opportunities for minorities within the sport.

Much has been made of the possibility of English clubs adopting a version of the “Rooney rule” – legislation introduced in 2003 in the US that requires NFL (American football) clubs to interview black candidates on their shortlists for management and coaching vacancies.

This was an idea put forward in the PFA’s six-point plan.

While reception to the Rooney rule has been warmly received, the idea of a black players union has generated significant criticism.

Defending the notion of a breakaway union was Peter Hebert, a former chair of the Met police’s Hate Crime Forum.

“There is no reason for a negative reaction from the tabloid media or some sections of the industry to this concept”, Herbert said.

“The principle of black self-organisation has made a significant contribution to the ability of the legal profession, and police force to combat racism and there is no reason why the football industry should not learn from these lessons.

“The punitive effects of racism are felt by thousands of people in Britain each day. The response of the Football Association, UEFA and the leading figures in the game, black and white has to be robust to protect this generation and others from the humiliation, pain and suffering and lack of opportunity this type of hate crime inflicts”, he said.

“When individual football clubs endorse this behaviour, they themselves become part of the problem of denial and appeasement and abdicate their role as reasonable employers”.


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