On Thursday 31 October, The Durham Union hosted a panel discussion on racism in sport with Paul Canoville, Chelsea’s first black player, Robbie Lyle, host of ArsenalFanTV, and Dr. Rosi Sexton, the first mixed-race woman to fight in the UFC.
Kicking off the night was the question of whether actions currently taken by clubs and governing bodies after racist incidents are sufficient.
Canoville was the first to speak, saying that: “All of the fans should be banned because the fans play a major part in policing it. With all the sponsors involved, it’s money-oriented but this is where I feel the clubs have got to do a lot more.”
Lyle concurred. “If you fine Chelsea £75,000, or Arsenal £75,000 that’s a joke. The other day I think it was Bulgaria was fined £75,000 and I mean, come on, that’s nothing.
“I don’t really have any respect for UEFA because they know these fines don’t work, they know these things don’t work and serious action has to be taken if you’re serious about something.
I don’t really have any respect for UEFARobbie Lyle
“The organisations, FIFA, UEFA, the Premier League, if you’re serious about racism, you have a competition where there’s rules about the game and about partaking in the tournament.
“They make it very clear that there should be no discrimination, no racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism,” he continued. “So to me, if that system is in place, if you mess up on those rules, not once or twice, I feel like the third time you have to throw them out of the competition until they get their house in order.
“Can you imagine if a club like Arsenal got thrown out of the Champions League? Do you know the damage that would do to the pockets of the hierarchy? They wouldn’t accept the few fans who caused it. If they got hit in the pocket, ultras, everyone would be gone because they can’t afford to have their club out of European competition.
“To me it’s simple, if you’re serious about something, bring in the right sort of bans and we can get it out of football very, very quickly.”
The power of heavy financial sanctions was also attested to by Dr. Sexton, as was the importance of keeping racism in the public eye.
“In professional sport at every level, the problem you run into is money. Culturally, my sport is very different from football. It’s a very young sport and as an individual sport rather than a team sport, there’s a very different culture behind it.
“But one of things that there is in common is that money talks and the people running those organisations are swayed by what’s going to make money and they don’t want to upset the fans too much in the wrong way.
“That influences the decisions that get made and I think that’s part of the problem.
Money talksDr Rosi Sexton
“People need to be aware that it’s still out there. And that’s going to part of the solution because that wider social pressure is effective.
“When people beyond who it affects stand up and say ‘we’re not having this’, and it actually starts to affect those businesses’ bottom line, that’s when things start to change.”
Overt racism in the form of spectator abuse is, unsurprisingly, far more visible than covert forms racism within football, especially in terms of racial imbalances in management, coaching and boardroom positions.
Again, Dr. Sexton offered incisive analysis of the scientific background to the topic.
“The difficulty is we all carry around with us certain stereotypes. Unless we make a deliberate conscious effort to override those and work past it then it’s something that can very easily influence things.
“Things like the Rooney Rule are an attempt to, in a small way, get past that by saying that you must look at a black candidate. It’s not perfect by a long stretch and it needs to be a lot stronger. It’s not just a challenge in sport, it’s a challenge across society.”
One particularly striking case study in this regard is Southend United manager Sol Campbell, as Canoville remarked: “The man’s got every coaching badge going and he captained England, Arsenal and Tottenham and the only position he’s been given is at Southend.
“You’re not seeing black managers and black coaches now and for me it’s disgusting. That’s the next thing that’s got to turn around.
“I find it unbelievable that so many black people play football,” Lyle responded. “Arsenal last night [against Liverpool in the League Cup] had four or five black people in the starting line-up. And then I’ve been to Arsenal board meetings and there’s not one black person there.
You’re not seeing black managers and black coaches now and for me it’s disgustingRobbie Lyle
“I was at this Arsenal board meeting one time and this lady stands up and she addresses the board. She says ‘can you answer me this one question? You’re based in North London where there’s a high percentage of black people. But I’m looking at the board and there’s not one woman up there, not one black person up there, not one young person up there. Why is there no representation of the people in the area?’
“They just literally said to her ‘well, you know’, that sort of thing like ‘I’ve got a lot of black friends’.
“I just look at it and I think something’s wrong. Why is it that Sol Campbell had to start at the bottom club of the Football League? He went in there [at Macclesfield Town], kept them up and has now got a job at Southend.
“Lampard’s at Chelsea, Gerrard’s got a job at Glasgow Rangers, there’s many other ex-players who don’t have the CV of Sol Campbell. It’s weird, at the very least, that none of these guys [like Sol Campbell] are getting any jobs; lots of people who have been in football for years are not even considered. And that’s why sometimes I do find it hypocritical when some of the powers-that-be look at Bulgaria and stuff like that.
“There’s a huge change that needs to be made at that high level. And sometimes when you see more representation at that high level, that begins to deal with some of the issues on the pitch and on the terraces.”
Speaking of Bulgaria, Canoville was asked by Lyle, who was chairing the discussion, about whether walking off the pitch in response to racist abuse was a viable option for him when he played in the 1980s.
“In my day, if I’d have walked off, I’d have been kicked out because they would’ve said ‘it doesn’t make sense, go’. That’s it, my contract would’ve been torn up. That’s the reason why I didn’t say anything, I didn’t complain.
“Don’t get me wrong I was angry, many a time, and I used to go home thinking ‘what’s going on’. Every time I went on the pitch I had to play twice as well as my teammates to be accepted by the fans.
It was frightening, it was hardPaul Canoville
“I knew that if my touch wasn’t right from the first minute, I knew I was going to have a nightmare.
“I must’ve done the longest warm-ups ever as a substitute because when the assistant would go ‘Canners, come on’, I saw him but I didn’t move. The reason why was I didn’t want to go past the same abuse.
“It was frightening, it was hard, it wasn’t a confidence booster to be honest. I couldn’t do anything better. Even when I scored, they’d say ‘doesn’t count, a black man scored it’.”
Image by The Durham Union