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It's a Worry Football #2

By: Todd Bontoft
Date: 29/01/2001

Football is only a game and watching on Saturday evening the Holocaust Memorial Day's National Ceremony brings home this simple truth. Despite how worked up we become, how consumed by all things football it deserves no more than a passing glance in our consciousness.

If we as football fans gave half as much energy to fighting racism and intolerance then the world would be a far better place.

We are all guilty, to varying degrees, of ignoring 'worthy' initiatives, and whilst we implicitly support their aims, we do little else. A pretty good example is the campaign 'Kick Racism out of Football', we may passively nod approval at the advert in the matchday programme but it's difficult to be inspired into any real action. This despite the evidence of the trace of the beast at most grounds up and down the land.

Many do make their opinions known to the perpetrators but let's be honest whose prepared to, say, spend a day travelling to London to take part in a rally in support of such an initiative? I know that I, wrongly, will think twice! Or feel enraged enough to write to your MP or the club about some inappropriate behaviour? And I take my proverbial hat off to those that do. But do we see them as a little eccentric to get worked up or worse classify them with that derogatory term 'do gooders'? But without those that speak out against such prejudices there would only be one direction for society to be heading.

The FA has real problems in re-launching the England Supporters Club, with its significant group of racist members. The overwhelming majority is not racist but the same brush tarnishes everyone! Provided the bad apples remain within the law how are they to be found?

Hitler Yes, thank goodness, it's wrong in many ways to compare today's attitudes within our society to the evil of those that commit genocide, but it is far more dangerous not to be vigilant. It is from small comments and little prejudices, that if gone unchallenged, will grow like a cancer until it is beyond control. Evil flourishes when good people do nothing and that is exactly what has happened in Rwanda, Nazi Europe (left), Cambodia, Kosovo and elsewhere.

Sport has been a puppet of politicians for centuries, sometimes as a power of good over evil. It exposed the wrongs of apartheid in South Africa, by highlighting that blacks and white were banned from playing sport together. Demonstrating to the world's community that the whole apartheid regime within that society was an enormous wrong.

More often sport has been manipulated at portraying the victorious as superior and their political ideologies as supreme. Soviet block countries, as we all know, took this, to its extremes. But everyday the planet shrinks a little more and there is a corresponding increase in opportunities and dangers. We can celebrate mankind's diversity or we can build barriers of hatred and intolerance. Of all sports, football - with its word-wide appeal - has a unique opportunity to unite rather than divide.

It has role models in abundance with a universal language of a basically simple game that can be played anywhere. It is ideally placed for influencing the attitudes of today's young people. Many commentators believe that the first black players in the English League have made a very significant contribution to race relations within this country. They simply played football, keeping their dignified approach despite the abuse. Became household names and heroes of many.

What a wonderful turnaround it would for the game we love, if it could really kick out the racists from our midst. And then for football move onto becoming the world's ambassador for an end to hatred.

Now that is something worth worrying about. I doubt that we will ever get there!

Todd Bontoft

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