Yesterday I had the pleasure of being featured on the BBC South Today bulletin, where I had to talk about the growing menace that is racism in football. As it turned out, the BBC was running a weeklong series of features and focus on the issue of racism, and, although the intended feature with me was to be in connection with my work for the Nigerian senior national team in my coaching/scouting capacity, the prevalent issue of racism took centre stage.
It took that stage so much that when the recording went back to studio, the editor at BBC deemed it more appropriate to amplify my message on racism much louder than the call on Nigerian players to switch allegiance from the country they live to their country origin.
It was a pleasant surprise, and very heartwarming, considering my position and strong feelings about race issues in the world that we live in. And thanks to the BBC, I was able to express, in that short time, my true thoughts on what is growing to be a real nuisance in our society.
However, it also brought me to ask myself the question – where really are we on this matter of racism?
Racism has been going on many many years. We have spent the last few months talking a whole lot more about it than before. But it is still there.
We have done the Black Lives Matter, we have started the kneeling down in sports events, we raise our fists, we do all these things….all in the name of fighting racial injustice.
It is great and refreshing to see big organisations like the BBC, like SkySports among others in my world – my football world – taking notice and making active moves that show their desire to be more inclusive, engaging and absorbing.
This is all great. But to what end?
Are we looking to eradicate racism? Can we actually bring an end to racism?
When these big movements talk, in football, and say ‘Kick-It-Out’ and all, is the aim to actually kick racism out of football?
I ask these questions because we need to get a handle on this subject – what racism is, how bad it is, and why it is….for example, in our football.
But then….I also ask – like in football, we say racism is there and growing. Is it only in football?
The movements that want to kick racism out of football, can they do it effectively without engaging with those in the wider and outer society?
Because racism in football can not go, due to the fact that racism is wider, broader and is a reflection of the wider society.
How can someone grow up, go to work feeling hatred for a black man at work; go to school and harbour racist hatred for a black classmate; be in a shop and take a look at the black person in front of the queue and a raw hatred wells up in them towards the person; is on the road driving, sees a black driver and just decides to cut the driver up because he is black?
How can this person, who has all this hatred inside him, now go to a football stadium and suddenly feel warm and nice towards a black player?
If such things can happen, then we can say racism in football is history. But it does not. Because racist tendencies are in the DNA of many individuals, and it is hard to get rid of.
We can not get rid of racism in football without tackling racism in the wider society. And that is what I want to dwell on at this time.
The wider society needs to be educated more. We need to get rid of this long-buried mindset in the hearts of many about what it means to be of a different race and colour.
Many who practice racism, and who develop racist tendencies do it without even knowing the root cause of why they are being racist. Many just inherit the passion and hatred from peers and elder ones and never found out just why it was so.
And some are so selectively racist. They could be friends, be in relationships with a black person; sometimes in football, support a team that has black players, but when they get on the wrong side of one, their expletives against the black person will be loudest.
You can not break down racism enough. There are just too many sides to it.
But also it must be acknowledged that the bitter part of racism is practiced by a relative minority of the wide world, and it makes it impossible for us to generalise and state that we live in a racist world.
It then brings one to a basic fundamental question. How do we curb racism? Do the perpetrators of the act really care about the consequences?
In football, they impose financial penalties on a player who racially abuses a fellow player – maybe a couple of games’ ban. If it is a fan that racially abuses a player, the club or country comes down on such a fan and perhaps bans such a person from attending football matches for a period – sometimes for life.
But what is the deterrent for the fan who racially abuses a fellow fan in the stands? What about the parent in grassroots football who racially attacks another parent or a young player (someone else’s child) on the Sunday youth league game pitch?
We don’t hear much of that, do we?
Leaving football, how many racial discrimination cases actually come up and get heard and judged in normal life? How do we treat racist acts in our offices? Do we even spot them?
How many black people have had the courage to come forward and complain that their manager called them a derogatory name in the course of work?
Racism is in the wider society and we should really not be surprised at the filter into our sports arenas unchecked, because the wider society has not checked it; or shall I say…can not check it.
So we need to take the education back to ourselves, and the grassroots, and now not only to the potential perpetrators of racism, but to the other side of that divide.
We have flogged the issue of racism and begged that it stops. We have done the whole PR stuff and protested, rallied, demonstrated and devised slogan after slogan since the 1950s that it must stop.
The situation is improving, but it is so deep that it is hardly noticed, and it only takes one single event to spark it all off again.
So I want to propose that we do more….more in the area of providing support, reasonable and impactful support to the abused, and focus less on the abuser.
Let us try that. Let us try and be there for the abused, a whole lot more than we are at the moment.
In football, we have those programmes that I mentioned – Kick-It-Out, FARE and all those racial equality groups. When a football player is racially abused, they run up and take action. They publicly and outrightly condemn the act, and provide support and sometimes counselling to the specific person who was abused.
This is all great. But we need more. We need to act more, and provide sustained, continuous support, not just to ease the pain of the abused after he or she has been abused, but to encourage a shift in the mindset of every individual on how not to be pained by racial abuse.
That is the support we need, not just in football, not only in the sports sector; but in the wider world.
I will share a story today, of my youth days.
I started driving at a very young age. And at that age (can’t exactly say because it was very illegal to be driving when I was!), I still managed to get my parents to bequeath one of their older cars to me, and it was like I owned the car.
But young teenager that I was, anytime I had the chance, I still wanted to drive the relatively newer car that even my parents used to wrap up in cotton wool and took only to special places on special occasions.
So when they were not around, I will sneak into the garage, take the ‘cotton wool’ wrapping off the car, and go see my friends and enjoy the luxury of the new car! Naughty, I know!
But again, teenager that I was, I was unable to cover my tracks well. And many-a-time, I got caught. My parents will know that I had been to the car. I get the necessary reprimand but does it deter the teenager? No. So I did it again and again.
Then it dawned on them (I think) that if they couldn’t heal the rascal in me, they had to do something about themselves. So they devised ways of keeping their precious car keys in places where I would never find them. They found ways that my actions did not hurt them as much as it did at the start.
Did it work? All I can say here is that after a while, I lost the appetite for driving the precious cars and remained satisfied with mine. And believe me, no force was applied.
The truth is that racism is like any other vice. And for as long as you still see crimes being committed in other areas, in spite of the fact that there is law and deterrent, racism will still occur. No amount of punishment will be enough to stop people from doing what they aim to do. Especially as we said before that it is in-bred, and has been there a long time.
It is bitter, it is hard, but it is true.
So, like my parents did all those years ago, I am saying we can also do this.
We can also provide support to ourselves to minimise the impact of what is being done to us, even before it is done. We can rally round each other and let the minority racists see that they are attacking a block of united, cerebral and self-confident people and that their actions do not as much as lay a faint touch on us.
That is the kind of support we need to provide. A support network that helps the black and ethnically diverse people so that they see very little in what is thrown at them, while also using the same network to engage those who potentially might get into racist acts and discourage them.
I want to see a lot less of black and ethnic minorities being sad and acting like victims in the face of abuse. We can not allow the minority of people score verbal, moral and psychological victories over people who did no wrong at all, other than being a different skin colour.
I want to see many of our black people hold their heads high, confident in who they are, what they are and how they are….and focus on getting better at what they do well, and think as little of the abuse as is possible, and most importantly, not to let it hurt them.
We are writing a Report Card on racism, and that Report Card shows that we are making all the noises; Black Lives Matter has gained ground immensely worldwide, we are pumping fists, raising arms and fighting racial inequality.
We are getting the people who do the abuse to stop. Companies and organisations are reviewing their recruitment policies and promotion strategies. Media organisations are doing their best to promote the slogan.
We have the elite sports people standing up, not just for themselves, but for people like them.
Now is the time, to complete that Report Card by recording SUCCESS – by providing consistent and sustained, effective support for the education and the development of the mindset of the black and ethnically diverse in society to stand up, raise their chins up individually and collectively, and be able to shout “I AM NOT A VICTIM – YOUR ACTIONS WILL NOT GET TO ME”.
It is all in the MINDSET!