Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I’m Not a Racist But… I am Malky Mackay

This was originally written for and published on my Beyond the Ninety column on Voom Football 

We didn’t even manage to make it out of August before the first controversy rocked the Premier League. The news that former Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay and his colleague Iain Moody had exchanged a number of racist, anti-Semitic, sexist and homophobic texts not only put the kibosh on their proposed move to Crystal Palace, it also acted as a sad reminder that prejudice remains rife in football.

While quotes from Moody are hard to come by, Mackay has swiftly moved into damage limitation mode. He has forthrightly denied making sexist and homophobic comments, which means his defence amounts to little more than copping to the charges of racism and anti-Semitism. QPR boss Harry Redknapp offered Mackay his (qualified) support on the grounds that the man isn’t a “paedophile or a murderer” before imparting these pearls of wisdom: “Obviously someone is after him, ain’t they? They are certainly not giving up, that’s for sure.” Whether or not the pair are victims of an elaborate sting operation orchestrated by Vincent Tan, their former employer at Cardiff City, is irrelevant. Let’s get this clear: the language they used to describe women, gay people and ethnic minorities is disgusting and has no place in society, let alone in, what is supposedly, the beautiful game.

Despite the severity of the situation the League Managers Association (LMA) only served to make matters worse. The LMA released a statement saying that Mackay and Moody were involved in “banter”. It was a scandalous comment, which trivialised issues of discrimination. Besides, the LMA’s claims don’t change the substance of what Mackay and Moody have done. Banter or not, the content was still racist. It’s a bit like saying that all Jim Davidson does is tell some jokes, or that the English Defence League simply like going for a walk through town on a Saturday afternoon.

There was a time, not so very long ago, when football in this country seemed to think that it had cracked the problem of racism. The press would look on at the treatment black players received in places like Spain or Russia and give thanks that such bigotry was confined to England’s past. Unfortunately it just does not work that way. To paraphrase John Barnes: as long as racism exists in society at large then it will continue to appear in the world of sport. And after successive governments have demonised migrants, Muslims and Eastern Europeans, the latest British Social Attitudes survey suggests that racism is on the rise.

Football is not immune to this. Indeed we’ve seen it over the past few seasons, the most high profile cases being those of Luis Suarez and John Terry who were fined and banned by the FA for racially abusing Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand respectively.

Strangely Garth Crooks, a trustee for Kick It Out, took the opportunity to ramble on at length about how Mackay and Moody would be welcomed back into the football family: "There has to be room for redemption. This is about education. We are keen for managers, players and coaches who fall from grace in this area to understand what is acceptable in a working environment." He is formally correct but his talk of redemption is horribly premature. To run with Crook’s religious phraseology, it is not our job to arbitrarily grant absolution; Mackay and Moody must first of all atone for their sins. The pair should be working with the FA to right their wrongs; they should throw themselves into campaigns to end bigotry and discrimination. Football need not passively reflect the worst of society – potentially it can be a force for good.

By placing the onus on everyone else, Garth Crooks is shifting the emphasis in the wrong direction. The question is not who will employ Mackay and Moody now given these messages. Instead it is how will Mackay gain the respect of a dressing room which may contain black, Asian or Jewish players? Will women and gay people feel that they can trust Moody if they have to work with him? As much as people may point the finger elsewhere, this whole situation is the making of Mackay and Moody and for the foreseeable future they will reap what they themselves have sown.

All of this has happened in the same week which has seen the return of Mario Balotelli to English football. The Italian striker is no stranger to racism and received the most disgusting abuse from the moment he made his debut in the Italian league at the tender age of 15. Prior to the European Championships staged in Poland and Ukraine in 2012, Balotelli said that if anyone racially abused him in the street he would kill them. Both Mackay and Moody will, no doubt, be avoiding Liverpool’s new striker at all costs.