Straight Talk - Don’t ignore football race row lawyer. Ask big questions instead
Not long after I moved down here, a contact I was talking to about a story referred to her efforts to elicit change as “muddying the waters.”
It’s a phrase that has stuck with me and one which comes to mind when considering the recent rise to public prominence of Peter Herbert, the chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers, amid the ongoing racism debate in football.
I’ve held off discussing the issue until now, mainly because it has seemed that not many days have gone by without a new twist being introduced to the subject.
But as more has happened, and particularly as Mr Herbert has made more public statements, it has seemed increasingly clear to me that the implications of parts of what he and his organisation wish to see go well beyond the race issue itself.
I don’t say that as a criticism, but to raise a point that needs to be addressed in order for him and his supporters to avoid what should be legitimiate questions being dismissed as little more than a trouble-causing exercise.
To take one specific example, Mr Herbert was quoted this week as describing the punishments handed down to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Chelsea’s John Terry for racially abusing opponents as “derisory.”
I have some sympathy with that view, specifically with regard to the four-match suspension given to Terry, which is the same as the one automatically handed down to a player who is shown two straight red cards in a season.
But I also note that the eight-match ban given to Suarez late last year is the same length of ban as was handed down to Ben Thatcher a few years ago for putting an opponent in hospital with a violent elbow which knocked him into some advertising hoardings and left him unconscious.
So if the Suarez punishment was derisory, was the Thatcher one derisory as well? If there should be harsher penalties for racist abuse on the field of play, does it then follow that there should be harsher penalties for the kind of violent conduct Thatcher was guilty of? And, from there, at what point does this become a discussion not about tackling racism specifically, but about the policing of misconduct in general in football and, from there, about the way in which crime as a whole is punished in our society?
I’m not asking these questions out of a belief that what Mr Herbert is doing is wrong.
At a time of very public unease about the effectiveness of the anti-racism movement – particularly when this country might want to take the moral high ground over events in other nations – it cannot be a bad thing for an organisation whose head has had little or no previous involvement in football to look at the sport and ask difficult questions over a critical issue of the day.
But if Mr Herbert, the organisation that he leads or any breakaway players’ group that may be formed in the future – whether influenced by him or not – are to make a full contribution to the discourse going forward, they need to consider and answer the sort of questions posed above.
Even a cursory glance at the comments on one BBC story on the subject shows the reason why. Those suggest that ordinary fans don’t think Mr Herbert understands the game. Whether rightly or wrongly, it would help his cause to prove them wrong.
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Weather for King's Lynn
Tuesday 21 May 2013
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