How to eradicate racism on the pitch

If football is serious about tackling racism a license system and harsh punishments need to be introduced

As plans are announced to give foreign players 'cultural lessons', Adrian Clarke argues that they will do nothing and lengthy bans are the only way forward.

Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra - PA

English football wants the world to know that it will not tolerate racism or discrimination of any kind.


That’s fantastic news, which we all endorse. I wonder though, how far are clubs and the powers-that-be *really* prepared to go?

This week we’ve been given a hint. A 93-point document nattily entitled “English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan” details proposals to introduce ‘cultural lessons’ for players, managers and newcomers from overseas, as well as mandatory clauses in each player or managers’ contract stating that discriminatory language and behaviour was considered “serious gross misconduct”.

At first glance it appears to be a welcome and progressive step which sends out the right message. But hang on a second…

Do professional footballers (regardless of their nationality) really need educating on what’s right and wrong?


"As a former professional footballer of 15 years I find it incredibly sad that these matters need to be formally dealt with. In fact it’s embarrassing"

Doesn’t every club (regardless of who is involved) automatically regard racism as a ‘serious’ matter and punish the culprits accordingly?

As a former professional footballer of 15 years I find it incredibly sad that both of those matters need to be formally dealt with. In fact it’s embarrassing.

Personally I believe that ‘cultural lessons’ will be a waste of time. Aside from Luis Suarez’s reasoning that the term ‘negrito’ is widely used in Uruguay and therefore shouldn’t be deemed racist, I can’t recall other cultural confusions.


Educating the players is in practice, likely to be nothing more than a box-ticking smokescreen. They may not always act like it, but footballers are adults. They know if they’re being racist or not.

I fear the mandatory contractual issue will also prove to be ineffective. Outside of football, racism or discrimination in the work place usually results in instant dismissal or a suspension at best. 

Will clubs suddenly start sacking players if they’re found guilty of serious gross misconduct? Of course they won’t. Not if they’re top players, anyway. Someone else will just nab them instead.

And this is where the crux of the problem lies.


"Football fans who are found guilty of racism are banned for life, and everyone says ‘rightly so’. Why not players?"

Football clubs, and their fans (yes, us) only really care about themselves. The prize assets and heroes that we worship are pretty much forgiven for anything, as long as they are capable of bringing success to their team.


If they’re valuable - financially or emotionally - we’ll turn a blind eye and do anything not to lose them; and if that means temporarily casting our morals aside so be it.


Liverpool and Chelsea are somewhat shamefully, a testament to that.

Football supporters who are found guilty of racist behaviour are banned for life, and everyone says ‘rightly so’.

Talented footballers who commit the same or similar crime are initially defended. Then, if found guilty, they’re fined, suspended for a few weeks, and once restored to the side, all seems to be forgiven.

The balance is wrong.


"It shouldn’t matter if they are an unknown 17-year-old that’s unlikely to ever make the grade, or worth £30million"


Children imitate the habits and behaviour of their footballing heroes. So if football is serious – and I mean really serious – about eradicating racism and discrimination once and for all it has to get tougher; much tougher. Damaging consequences are the only deterrent.

With or without an admirable 93-point plan I just can’t see a time when clubs will punish their most precious employees fairly.

With or without an admirable 93-point plan I just can’t see a time when the FA won’t be worried about upsetting certain clubs or individuals with the sanctions they impose.

If a footballer is found guilty of racism, or any form of discrimination, it shouldn’t matter if they are an unknown 17-year-old that’s unlikely to ever make the grade, or worth £30million in the transfer market. Everyone should be treated equally.

With that in mind, maybe it’s time for a neutral independent body to issue footballers with a license to play the game at a professional level?

Behave yourself and there’s nothing to worry about. However, if a player knows there is a threat that he could have his playing licence taken away for six months, a year, or even for life, do you think they’d think twice about how they act? Of course they would.

In turn do you think clubs would try harder to ensure that each and every player was made fully aware of their moral responsibilities, if they knew licences could be removed without their control? You bet they would.

It’s a sad indictment on the game, but if English football wants to set an example to the next generation, I’m beginning to wonder if this extreme path is the way to go…


Adrian Clarke is a writer, television presenter and former Arsenal footballer, with lots of opinions about many different sports. You can follow him on Twitter @adrianjclarke



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