(By Paul Morrissey â€“Â Follow on Twitter here.)
I understandâ€¦â€¦I empathise withâ€¦..I see whereâ€¦â€¦excuse me one momentâ€¦(â€¦â€¦)â€¦.
I understand what Sepp Blatter meant.
When he said â€˜â€˜in footballâ€™â€™ he was referring strictly to what takes place on the pitch, as was Poyet, and as will I here. Blatter clearly does not deny the presence of racism in football stadiums; and the reaction to his words was disproportionate to the problem (on-pitch racism). The spectacular nature of the current high-profile cases has created an irrational sense of a racism epidemic (the ‘availability’ error of irrationality) in football. We thrive on a good moral panic.
The misnomer â€˜â€˜race-rowâ€™â€™ has been applied to both on-going investigations, when the term â€˜â€˜racialisationâ€™â€™ would be far more appropriate. Allow me explain.
Of the two cases, I am more interested in the Suarez-Evra situation and how it relates to football; and what I outline below is confined to the dimensions of the football pitch.
Suarez/Evra: Sojourner must adapt to surroundings, not vice-versa
Gus Poyet’s cri de coeur on Talksport brought some very welcome ethno-cultural relativism to the polemic, and indeed helped to crystallise my ideas on the matter.
However, I found several bones of contentions therein.
First off, Poyet’s weak attempt to compare the abuse he received as a player in La Liga with that of black players.
I am not going to dig up Poyet’s genealogy; suffice to say that to the untrained eye he is a ”white” Uruguayan.
He is hence in all probability a descendant of the Conquistadores period, no? Spain is his ancient patria. (I do stand corrected on that, but then that would Socra-ironically prove my point.)
Any abuse he would have received, either on the pitch or from the stands during his time in Spain, can only have been of the generic kind. Physically speaking, distinguishing him from his Real Zaragoza teammates would have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.
To equate between black and white â€˜â€˜racialisationâ€™â€™ as he has done is to ignorantly assume a mutually pacific history between both races.
Poyet then rattled off the by now platitudinal ” ‘Negrito‘ as term of endearmnent” spiel. Claro, South American cultures have a strong tradition of applying nicknames pertaining to peoples’ physiques, skin tone, hairstyle, etc. I am familiar with this first-hand (for example through practising Capoeira, where I was inevitably initiated as ”O Loiro, ”Blondie”) and it’s generally a harmless, playful tradition.
But ‘Radio’ overlooked the key element : context.
In the course of Suarezâ€™s little game of Chinese Whispers with Patrice Evra, one can clearly see that the tone of the ”Negrito” message is not one of endearment. He is snarling at him; patting him on the head in a belittling manner. It is not a cordial exchange of dialogue. And he said it ten times.
It is not necessarily racist. It is racialisation, and Patrice Evra, as a black footballer, should not have to hear that at his place of work should he find it unpleasant.
He could not air his grievances to the referee at the time (”Oooh, Weffewee, he’s calling me names!”), as to do so would have betrayed his sense of unease and have ceded ”checkmate” to his tormentor.
Suarez can address compatriot Parreira or Caceres by ”El Negro” or Alvaro Recoba by ”El Chino” over a cup of mate to his heart’s content; but he needs to check his racialist terms in the tunnel if he’s going to integrate into English footballing mores.
Even if, at an absolute push, we were to believe Suarez’s claims that he was unaware that his ”Negrito” message could cause such offence, where would that leave us? It would leave the invidious term ”Negrito” to migrate gradually into the English-speaking football lexicon, where it has no rightful place.
Language is organic: ”Negrito’‘ could underhandedly become ”Neggerito”, which then dangerously approaches the vicinity of the most heinous, racially loaded term possible. The word should be blacklisted from the pitch amongst opponents, and that should probably be the end of it.
Y tu mamÃ¡ tambiÃ©n
If we are to negate the racial element for a moment, another disturbing aspect of the game that has been highlighted through the recent race allegations, and it is one I’ve always struggled to understand.
Sledging. It’s honed a niche in the game of cricket, but its place in football just seems like a waste of time.
That’s sledging as distinct of banter. Banter, proper slagging and full-blown wind-up merchants from the school of Denis Wise have their place.
Shit gets said on the pitch, always has. But what Suarez became involved in with Evra goes way beyond the threshold of slagging and passes into the sledging arena. Why bother?
The most notorious exponents of ‘sledging’ in modern football history were probably the redoubtable Estudiantes side of the late 1960s. An unscrupulous pack of cabrons. The taunting was believed to have been so painstakingly researched and thought out as to draw on personal history and detailed information on the health of opponentsâ€™’ relatives.
They were serial winners, but the sledging was just mean, serving no real purpose.
Itâ€™s a dark art thatâ€™s rediscovered its voice through the likes of Matrix Materrazzi, and â€˜â€˜O Criminalâ€™â€™ Pepe. And that is their prerogative: they are a pair of uncouth, technically deficient defenders, who need to exploit every possible extra edge (and just for pure, cheap kicks in their cases).
The question is then: why does a player of the calibre of Luis Suarez even feel the need to systematically sledge his opponent?
Going into that match against Man United, he was reaching peak form, still riding the crest of the Copa America wave. I donâ€™t see how the notion to sledge Evra for the entire match (once every nine minutes, on average) should even occur to him.
Let’s recall the number at this point as it is crucial: ten. Using the word this many times amounts to systematic, pre-meditated taunting.
Surely in todayâ€™s sanitised, politically correct society, by becoming embroiled in sledging, the damage to oneâ€™s own character outweighs the marginal benefits to be gained?
Luis: concentrate on the football. You career is still ahead of you; leave the sledging to the playground. It doesnâ€™t become a true Champion.