British PM Cameron issues football racism warning

AP, Wednesday 22 Feb 2012

Footballers can be great role models for children, which is why racism cases 'cannot be brushed under the carpet', according to Cameron

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (Photo: Reuters)

British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged action to prevent the “dark days” of racism returning to soccer when he hosted a summit Wednesday to tackle the renewed problem.

The Downing Street gathering of politicians, soccer leaders and anti-racism campaigners comes after a spate of high-profile racism cases this season involving players and fans in Premier League matches broadcast around the world.

“We simply cannot brush this under the carpet,” Cameron wrote in Wednesday’s edition of The Sun newspaper. “I’ve no doubt that football will crack this problem—and the government stands ready to do anything it can to help.”

The most serious incident will be tried in court, with Chelsea defender John Terry charged with racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match in October. The case led to Terry being stripped of the England captaincy—a move opposed by coach Fabio Capello, who quit in protest.

“There was a time when football in our country was badly infected with racism. It took great effort from everyone involved in the game to kick it out,” Cameron said. “It’s an achievement not every country has managed to make … but recently racism has come back into the spotlight with cases involving some of the most famous players in football, one of which has led to the resignation of the England manager.

“We will not let recent events drag us back to the bad old days of the past.”

Liverpool, the 18-time English champion, came under fire for its support of striker Luis Suarez when he was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.

Liverpool only apologised earlier this month after a widely condemned incident in which Suarez refused to shake hands with Evra, who is black, in their first meeting since the confrontation during an October match.

“I want to be sure that when my children see their sporting heroes play, they aren’t let down by foul, racist or violent behavior on or off the pitch,” Cameron said. “Footballers can be great role models who the public admire. The power of sport—and sporting personalities—to do good is immense.

“But it can also go the other way. If children see bad behavior on the television or at the stadium, they may copy it and reproduce it in the playground.”

The government will give $4.7 million toward the English Football Association’s new coaching centre in a bid to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to become managers. There are no black managers in the Premier League.

Cameron said Wednesday’s meeting is designed to “reaffirm our vigilance against racism—and all forms of discrimination.”

Among the participants will be Amal Fashanu, who recently made a documentary for British TV about homosexuality in soccer, 14 years after her uncle Justin committed suicide.

The career of Fashanu, the first black soccer player to move in a 1 million-pound transfer when he joined Nottingham Forest in 1981, faded after he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality. He was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 aged 37.

Cameron describes homophobia in soccer as a largely taboo topic.

“It’s obviously quite unlikely that there are no gay Premiership players, and that tells you something about the tolerance within the game,” said Steve Field, Cameron’s spokesman.

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