Jim White

Zero tolerance the only option on racism

Jim White

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Luis Suarez

The charging of John Terry, plus the ban for Luis Suarez, suggest we have reached a new level of zero tolerance of racist abuse in English football.

Let's hope so. If we are to congratulate ourselves on the growth of forbearance in this country, if we are to compare ourselves favourably with less enlightened football cultures, if we are to occupy the moral high ground long ago abandoned by the ludicrous head of Fifa, then we cannot allow our guard to slip.

Advances can quickly turn back into reverses if complacency grips. And the fact is, there is still much to do to make English football a properly colour-blind operation.

The depressing, if not wholly unexpected, consequence of both cases has been the manner in which opinion has largely followed tribal lines.

Among some Liverpool supporters Suarez is reckoned the subject, rather than the perpetrator, of abuse here, assaulted by a double whammy of the FA and Manchester United, probably the two least-admired institutions in that part of the world.

The official response of Liverpool FC has not been its most dignified moment. The club's initial public statement - that even if Suarez had said something he wouldn't have realised it caused offence as he comes from a different culture - was disingenuous at best.

When in Rome, you do as the Romans do; claiming you are unaware of local sensibilities has never been - and should never be - legitimate excuse for transgression. As for Liverpool's insistence that Suarez was prosecuted simply on the word of an unreliable witness in the person of Patrice Evra, well that is somewhat undermined by the fact that the Uruguayan - in a newspaper interview - agreed with the Frenchman on what terms were used. He incriminated himself.

Loyalty is a fine quality, but their shrill reaction to their player's punishment has done Liverpool's historical reputation few favours. For a club with a proud and sturdy history of fighting racism, there are some battles it should not embark upon, some scraps not worth having.

What Suarez said was something which is wholly unacceptable and the authorities were right to treat it thus. Whether it was something which deserved an eight-match ban - given that attempts to conduct on-field surgery without the benefit of anaesthetic escape with far less - is a matter for the appeal process.

But the attempt to belittle and undermine opponents and authorities alike largely because it means they will be deprived of the services of their best player for a significant proportion of the season is not only beneath a club of Liverpool's stature, it sends out entirely the wrong signals.

The game needs to acknowledge that racism and racist language cannot be tolerated. The position should be absolute, not equivocated because it is your bloke who happens to be the one with the potty mouth.

As for John Terry, it is worth pointing out to those Chelsea fans frothing with rage at the treatment of their captain and totem that Terry is not the victim here. Nor is Anton Ferdinand the perpetrator.

Ferdinand did not even issue a complaint. He didn't actually hear what Terry is alleged to have said. Nor is the England captain at the centre of some carefully-woven conspiracy to bring him into disrepute.

Whether Terry is guilty as charged, due process will decide. But please spare us the nonsense that this is somehow the culmination of a long-standing effort to destroy him and his club.

Two things need to be stated about these cases. Racist abuse should not be tolerated, whatever the elevated status of those issuing it. And secondly, paranoia: it is not an attractive characteristic.

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