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Former England striker Les Ferdinand says teams should be kicked out of competitions if their fans are guilty of racist abuse.
Speaking to Yahoo Sport UK, Ferdinand also took aim at the authorities for paying ‘lip service’ to the problem, highlighting the lack of diversity both within the game as well as the industries around it such as the media.
“The people in charge, the FA, UEFA, FIFA, because they’ve never been racially abused, they don’t understand it so they pay lip service to it,” said the former QPR, Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur star. “The problem you have is that people don’t understand racism.
“They say football is racist because there's a lack of diversity in management, in the boardroom but then I look at all the industries that run alongside football.
“Look at the media. You never see black presenters on any of the main Sky shows. I listen to Talksport and all these radio shows. There’s no black presenters there.
“Everyone focuses on football itself. But the industries around football; nothing’s changed.”
READ MORE: The racist incidents shaming football
Ferdinand highlighted the recent controversy involving former Sky pundit Gordon Strachan as example of people failing to grasp the full impact of racism.
The ex-Celtic manager seemed to suggest that any abuse directed at disgraced sex offender Adam Johnson was similar to that suffered by black players.
“I sat there and I thought about it,” Ferdinand said ruefully. “Wherever you are in the world, I don't care what country you come from, pedophilia is seen as a crime and that’s what he got done for.
“By equating that to black people being abused, you’re saying being black is a crime.
He added: “People have been killed because they were black. So you can’t equate the same and, unfortunately, it is a lack of education that allows people to talk like that.”
Speaking passionately about the ongoing and seemingly increasing problem of racism in the stands, Ferdinand was adamant about what the punishment should be.
“I’ve got black parents, I’ve got black sisters, I’ve got black uncles and aunts who want to come and watch me play football,” he declared defiantly. “They won't feel safe in that environment. Why should they come into a football stadium and not feel safe?
“If you really want to eradicate this problem in football, rather than looking at fines or playing games behind closed doors, just kick them out of the competition, kick them out right now.
“If people in the Champions League or whatever competition get kicked out, you’ll see it eradicated from stadiums.”
Ferdinand is convinced the hardline approach is the only effective deterrent to rid racism from the stands and cites the European ban on English clubs following the Heysel disaster of 1985 - during the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus - which subsequently saw a drop in hooliganism.
“Many years ago, we were seen as some of the biggest hooligans in Europe,” he explained. “So what happened? We were banned from European competition.”
Thirty nine supporters lost their lives in the tragedy - with a further 600 injured - when Liverpool fans breached a fence in the stadium, causing rival fans to be crushed against a wall which eventually collapsed.
All English clubs were banned for five years following the incident with Liverpool banned for an additional season.
“When our fans went back into Europe we knew how to behave ourselves because we didn’t want to be banned again,” continued Ferdinand.
Nicknamed ‘Sir Les’ during his playing days, Ferdinand was actually honoured with an MBE in 2005 in recognition of his services to football.
He ended his playing career the following year and is the 10th-highest scorer in Premier League history with 149 goals.
Following a 20-year career, Ferdinand revealed how abuse from the crowd actually spurred him on to play better.
“My record against Everton is probably better than any other club I’ve played against in the league,” he admitted, “because I got racially abused, I had this extra determination to score.”
After retiring, Ferdinand returned to Spurs in a coaching role between 2008 and 2014. But he was initially reluctant because he didn’t believe there were enough opportunities for minorities to have careers in the game away from the pitch.
“I didn’t know if I'd be accepted back into football once I'd finished playing,” he said. “I wasn’t sure whether a career in football, be it coaching or management, was going to be for me because there were so few black managers, black coaches.”
Currently working as a coach and Director of Football at Loftus Road, Ferdinand believes there is still a long way to go with regard to seeing more black faces in those roles.
“I came into the game at 19 and we were talking about the lack of representation in management, in coaching back then.” Ferdinand lamented. “I stayed in the game until I was 39 years of age and we were still talking about it when I retired.
“I’m now 52 years of age, and we’re still talking about it. So, to say that it has improved? I’d have to say no.”