Football’s anti-racism fight still ‘in a dark place’ – Cameron Jerome

Nick Mashiter, PA
·6-min read

Cameron Jerome believes sport remains in a dark place and football has failed to tackle racism since players started taking a knee.

The MK Dons striker has stopped kneeling as he feels the message has been lost given the continued racial abuse of players.

Scotland became the latest team to remain standing ahead of their 2-2 draw with Austria last week after the alleged racial abuse suffered by Rangers’ Glen Kamara against Slavia Prague.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Fred, Romaine Sawyers and Jude Bellingham are just a few who have been abused on social media this year and Jerome struggles to see progress being made.

Sunderland v Milton Keynes Dons – Sky Bet League One – Stadium of Light
MK Dons striker Cameron Jerome has stopped taking a knee. (Richard Sellers/PA)

He told the PA news agency: “There’s no accountability for social media platforms and until there is you’re still stuck in a dark place in terms of racism and discrimination.

“It’s become so rife on social media it’s hand-in-hand and it’s too easy to get at players.

“It was great when we came back after the restart, the message was strong, but the powers in football have not built on it or made any progress. The message (of taking a knee) isn’t powerful enough.

“Not enough action has been done by the people in charge.

“The campaigns they do are little and often but they are meaningless until proper action is taken against supporters who abuse players and people on social media – not just racially but discrimination in any form.

“Until something is done, rules put in place by the governing bodies, then in sport – not just football – things won’t change.”

Thierry Henry came off social media last week until companies clamp down on racist abuse and Jerome feels he cannot speak his mind on the platform.

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“Who can blame him?” said the ex-Birmingham and Stoke forward. “We’re held accountable for what we say on social media. If I say something someone thought was controversial the FA would have me in front of them, give me a ban and a heavy fine.

“But everyone else seems to be able to make an anonymous account and say what they want and nothing gets done about it.

“Twitter, Facebook, Instagram – the people who govern these things – don’t seem to care. It’s the access people have to others. Fifty years ago they would have to say it to your face, they wouldn’t do it now.”

Like many, Jerome has his own stories. In 2014-15 when playing for Norwich, a charge of racial abuse against Leeds defender Giuseppe Bellusci was found “not proven” by an Independent Regulatory Commission – though the same commission commended Jerome as a “truthful witness who honestly believed that he had been racially abused”.

But he is heartened ex-Brighton striker Maheta Molango will become the Professional Footballers’ Association’s new chief executive, giving hope to other former players from different backgrounds.

He added: “To have a BAME candidate in a position of power is encouraging. It shows there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Will it reflect in managerial and coaching positions? On boards?

“Hopefully it can encourage other BAME ex-professional players to think they can go and get other top positions, that there is hope and they can apply for these jobs.”

Facebook and Instagram have recently announced tougher measures to avoid abuse via direct messages and vowed to continue to combat it.

A company spokesman said: “We don’t want discriminatory abuse on Instagram or Facebook. We share the goal of tackling it and want to hold people who share it accountable.

“Between October and December last year we took action on 6.6 million pieces of hate speech content on Instagram, 95% of which we found before anyone reported it to us.”

Twitter has been approached for comment.

On the pitch, Jerome is at ease. He has 15 goals this season having linked up with former Norwich team-mate Russell Martin, now his boss at Stadium MK, and Dons still have a chance of reaching the Sky Bet League One play-offs.

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The move came after his return from two years in Turkey with Goztepe and, while Jerome had plenty of options abroad, those at home were slim and he wanted to stay in the UK with his family amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I came back in the summer and it was difficult, it was the first time in my career I was at a crossroads,” said the 34-year-old. “I’d always been in demand but as I came back from there I was forgotten about.

“Covid made it difficult for people to want to take you. They’d debate ‘is he too old, what’s his motivation, has his lost his desire?’ That gets thrown at experienced players.

“Football has changed, it has gone more analytical. Players are bigger commodities at a younger age, it’s become more of a business.

“Being an older player you are looking at yourself thinking ‘I’ve had a good career, 600 games, 150 goals, played at the top level and got however many promotions’.

“But people would say ‘well, I’ve not seen him for a couple of years’. You are always fighting those stereotypes against older players.”

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There was no such issue in January when Cardiff – where he played between 2004 and 2006 – offered him a surprise return to Wales.

A bid of £100,000 plus add-ons was rejected on deadline day and, while the lure of a club he scored 27 goals in 79 games for was strong, Jerome remains philosophical.

He said: “It would have been nice to go back to where I made my name but I know these things can be complex and it came too late for MK to get a replacement.

“I’ve always been content with where I’ve got to, I played for good teams and commanded reasonable transfer fees. I’ve tried everything – the only thing left is to go in goal.

“I didn’t come through an academy system, I’ve shown resilience and mental strength. There’s nothing left for me to achieve, it’s about playing with a smile on my face.”