Try to get your head around this: the FA has announced that it plans to fight racism in British football by re-educating the game’s foreign players and inculcating them with “British cultural values”. Yes, that’s right—the FA’s big idea for tackling prejudice in footie is to declare war on the allegedly prejudicial mindsets of those bloody foreigners coming over here and ruining our national sport with their un-PC, racially tinged outlooks. I’ll say it one more time to ensure that everyone is as struck dumb by this daft idea as I was: the FA believes that racism in British football is in part a spin-off of the backward attitudes of footballers from other, non-British races—which of course is itself a borderline racist belief. My head hurts.
Clearly the FA’s irony checker was on holiday when it was drawing up its 93-point document, English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan. The document contains various proposals for tackling the alleged scourge of racism in football, including having a mandatory anti-racism clause in all players’ contracts and introducing fixed-term bans for players found guilty of using racist language. But the proposal to introduce “cultural lessons” for foreign-born players is the most startling of all. According to the BBC, the aim of these lessons is to “induct” foreign players, who obviously come from less enlightened, less racially aware countries than our own, into a “British cultural environment” of fair play and tolerance. In essence, then, the FA’s contribution to anti-racism in football is to further fuel the prejudicial belief that foreigners are uncouth, uneducated, intolerant. This is one of those moments when one feels tempted to reach for that hackneyed tabloid phrase, “You couldn’t make it up”.
The FA’s desire to enlighten the dumb foreign hordes about why we should be tolerant of foreignness springs from its experience of the Luis Suarez controversy. Last year Luis Suarez, a Uruguayan Liverpool player, was banned by the FA for eight games after he called Man Utd’s black player Patrice Evra a “negrito”. Suarez argued that negrito was not a racist term and is in common usage in his home country Uruguay. It was then the FA realised it had to help these poor, morally underdeveloped foreigners to see the error of their ways; it recognised, in the words of the BBC, that “more [needed] to be done to help educate the significant number of overseas players, particularly in the tinder box atmosphere of the Premier League”. A similar attitude was taken towards former England manager Fabio Capello last year, when he dared to suggest that players involved in minor, racially tinged scuffles on the pitch should patch things up with a handshake. The problem with Capello, said a Guardian columnist, is that he’s from Italy, a country which has not yet achieved the same “social evolution” as Britain. We have reached a level of “progress many other societies have yet to achieve”, said the weirdly PC-yet-nationalistic Guardian hack.
That the FA and commentators can slam foreign players and foreign managers for not being sufficiently “socially evolved” captures brilliantly what anti-racism has become in the 21st century—a means, ironically, of expressing one’s moral and cultural superiority over the uneducated, the un-PC, the foreign. Once it was through the ideology of racism that the great and the good established their alleged superiority over people from strange, faraway lands; now it’s the ideology of official anti-racism that allows them to do that.