Football Needs To Stop Making Excuses For Racism

Football Needs To Stop Making Excuses For Racism

Enough of the buzzwords and the avoidance. Football has a problem and the authorities are not addressing it properly. In many ways, they are the problem.

January 19th 2023

Former Crawley manager John Yems was recently banned from football for a total of 15 months following multiple breaches of the FA’s rules relating to discrimination. Whilst the small length of his ban is concerning, it’s not the end of concerns with regards to how this case has been handled.

This fiasco revolves around the 64-year-old allegedly making 16 comments which “included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief and/or gender” over the course of three years whilst managing Crawley Town.

It’s important to note, Yems admitted one charge, but was then found guilty of a further 11.

Whilst the Football Association is the power broker and governing body of football within this nation, their response to Yems’ abuse raises question marks about whether they are doing what needs to be done to truly ensure the sport is moving in the right direction.

With great power comes great responsibility – yet the authority who is responsible for the game is not being responsible with their position of power. While they had the opportunity to be ‘Spiderman’ in this situation and restore peace, they instead have allowed yet another situation to fall into the web of the unknown.

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Put simply, John Yems receiving only a 15-month ban for his offences is a mockery.

A mockery to those he abused. A mockery to those who have ever been abused, and a mockery to those who'd hoped this case would set a precedent.

Onlookers would hope that a case involving racism, homophobia, islamophobia and many other forms of discrimination would result in a punishment that highlighted our sport’s zero tolerance approach to transgressions of this nature.

Football’s public campaigns to aid diversity and inclusion are visible, therefore it’s somewhat ironic that in one of the biggest cases concerning that very fight in quite some time, we still aren’t seeing actions that back up the talk. The truly insane nature of John Yems’ offences is that he abused and discriminated against a longlist of marginalised groups. Being hit with a small ban tells the world that racism and discrimination are small issues to the FA.

While no club may interact with John Yems again due to the potential backlash, he has the opportunity to reintegrate back into the football fold within two seasons. Perhaps the most egregious offence of all was the findings of an independent FA panel that decided Yems’ abuse wasn’t “conscious racism”. We’re not going to reprint the remarks here, but one glance tells you this man knew exactly what he was doing, such was the regularity and specificity of his comments.

The elephant in the room is, racism and discrimination are treated in such a way that excuses to justify abhorrent actions are simply normalised.

We need to stop making excuses for racism. We need to stop making excuses for Islamophobia. We need to stop making excuses for homophobia. We need to stop making excuses for discrimination.

For far too long, the guise of ‘banter’ had been used to cover up wrongdoing in changing rooms and in stands. For far too long, the ‘uneducated’ point of view has been given far too much leniency. You may even remember instances of racism in football stadiums being described as “isolated incidents”, when in reality hate crimes have been on the rise in real life and online for the last few years.

Both had been the best cover ups for a while but with the birth of information and education being at the forefront of anti-discrimination campaigns, it appears like it was time for a new line of defence. It seems “conscious vs unconscious” racism might be the new shield bigots hide behind.

An independent panel deciding that John Yems isn’t a “conscious racist” is – in as few words as possible – disrespectful and offensive to everyone, everywhere.

If you wanted to go a step further, an independent panel containing a former Black professional player reaching this outcome is scary (but that remains a topic for another day, and arguably shows how diversity and inclusivity aren’t one and the same).

The FA have since disagreed with the findings of their panel and are now considering legal options. It’s confusing and demonstrates the lack of leadership these issues continue to be plagued with. It feels so unserious.

The reality is that footballers, who trained their whole lives to become professionals, were mocked and harassed in their place of work. So much so, that some took the decision to leave. And let’s not beat around the bush: there are many like Yems within the professional and the grassroots game.

Football still needs to undergo so much change. It’s the nation's biggest sport and in many ways, is a reflection of its beliefs and values. If the powers that be can not take matters seriously, then what hope do we have? How will we ever have a game that is truly diverse and represents everyone.

The game’s governing bodies may have serious strategies for anti-discrimination education and PR, but punishments that fit the crimes must also be a part of those strategies. If the authorities and those who represent them refuse to do what needs to be done, they’re only enabling bad faith actors to carry on.

Fewer reports. Fewer empty words. Fewer campaigns for the sake of campaigns. More real work. More accountability. Please.

That's not asking too much, is it?