Reading striker Jason Roberts plans not to wear a Kick It Out shirt this Sunday when Reading faces Liverpool this Saturday, reports the Daily Mail:
Roberts added: ‘I’m totally committed to kicking racism out of football but when there’s a movement I feel represents the issue in the way that speaks for me and my colleagues, then I will happily support it. ‘I think people feel let down by what used to be called “Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football”.’
Roberts also said that Terry’s apology has come ‘a year too late’ and the FA punishment was too lenient.
‘The four-match ban was, for me, not a heavy enough sanction for what happened,’ said Roberts.
It’s not entirely clear what more Roberts would have Kick It Out do to help staunch systemic racism within the English game, but therein lies the problem I have with these kinds of organizations when they work at the elite level of professional sport. Whether consciously or unconsciously, an exterior group complete with shirts and signs and buttons that implicitly carries the responsibility for eradicating racism tends to take some of the drive and necessity away from the clubs and the leagues themselves to tackle the problem in ways specific to their organization.
Now the group, as Roberts points out, seems to have shied away from serious intervention in recent cases this year. Far better would be for the organization to act as a mandatory consultant with clubs, and perhaps as a more silent whistleblower program for the 91 professional clubs throughout the country. Meanwhile any public displays against racist behaviour (t-shirts and the like) should be left to the individual clubs, and should be mandatory. Why not Liverpool Against Racism for example? Or the Premier League Days of Action Against Homophobia in Football? A far more powerful message, no?
Kick It Out does superb work at the grassroots level of the game, where resources are scarce and where youth coaches can act with less accountability. That is likely its most valuable work. It should not be a stand in though for the concrete action against racism required by each and every club and league at the professional level.