ONE year ago today, George Floyd, 46, was murdered in the US by a white police officer kneeling on his neck.
That horrific act sparked Black Lives Matter marches across the world and focused attention on race inequality.
Former footballer Anton Ferdinand, who made documentary Football, Racism And Me, speaks to talkSPORT’s Hugh Woozencroft about the impact in football since.
HUGH: Let’s talk about the Black Lives Matter protests. In football, has George Floyd’s death been used as a positive or a negative?
ANTON: I know some people don’t like the fact players and coaches take the knee but for me that’s a positive because it keeps the conversation going. It sparks conversations too. A young boy or girl might be watching football and it might be the first time they’ve seen someone take the knee. If they ask their parents, “Why are they doing that?”, that’s powerful.
HUGH: When fans boo players taking the knee, does that portray football negatively?
ANTON: Yes it does, it shows ignorance. I understand there’s a tribal element to football, but society is different now. Years ago, when there were marches and demonstrations, it was only ethnic minorities on them. Now they are multicultural. Everyone is talking about racism the way you and I used to speak about it. They don’t necessarily feel what we feel, but they’re trying to understand it. That, for me, is probably bigger than anything. We are far from where we want to be in terms of equal rights, but we’re not going to conquer this alone. We need people who look like the oppressors to speak the way we speak for the oppressors to understand. What we’re seeing in society is a fantastic thing.
HUGH: Football clubs recently held a four-day social media blackout to tackle abuse online [newspapers including The Sun joined the protest]. Will football ever turn its back on social media?
ANTON: If things don’t start to change, I think it will do. I’d be fully involved in that. When we had the boycott, I wanted to see the likes of Adidas and Nike and other sponsors come away too. They’re paying money for slots on social media. Take away the money and do the social media channels start to listen?
HUGH: We saw Black Lives Matter on football shirts, then it was No Room For Racism. Some players take a knee, some don’t any more. Is the message beginning to break apart?
ANTON: I think so. Unity conquers everything. Unity stopped the Super League happening. My question is: Why is there unity when it affects someone’s pocket yet when it’s someone’s skin colour, ethnicity or religion, the energy isn’t the same? Money doesn’t have feelings, people do. We’d rather look after people’s feelings than a pound note, surely? In Anton’s BBC1 documentary, he spoke for the first time about a high-profile incident in which John Terry was accused of using racist language against him during a match between Anton’s Queens Park Rangers and Terry’s Chelsea in 2011. Chelsea captain Terry was cleared in a criminal case but the Football Association banned him from four matches and fined him £220,000.
HUGH: How do you think football is dealing with incidents of racism?
Recently, we saw Rangers player Glen Kamara, who was allegedly racially abused during a Europa League match by Slavia Prague player Ondrej Kudela, who was given a ten-match ban, which he is contesting.
ANTON: I have to mention the support Steven Gerrard, the Rangers manager, gave to Glen Kamara. He said: “He’s my player, I trust him with my life.” When you’ve got someone supporting you in public in that way, sometimes that’s enough. In terms of football dealing with these issues, they’re so far behind it’s ridiculous. What the fines and what the bans should be I don’t know, but it’s clear they’re not enough. The day afterwards, their fan base (Slavia Prague’s) posted a picture on Instagram calling Kamara the N-word. For that alone, they should have been kicked out of the competition. In any other walk of life outside of football, if someone was to racially abuse someone, they would get the sack.
HUGH: We’re one year on from George Floyd’s murder. Where do you think we’ll be with racial equality in ten years?
ANTON: We won’t have eradicated racism — not in our lifetime, I don’t think. We’re nowhere near where we want to be but there’s less racism on the streets than there used to be.I’d like to get to a place, in my lifetime, where racial slurs are no longer used on social media or in the stands, because people no longer feel comfortable to do it there.
HUGH: The Euros are coming up, we’ve got a very diverse squad. If a player suffers racist abuse, how big a moment would it be if the England players walked off the pitch as a result?
ANTON: It would be massive, but why is the onus on them? The players and manager will get abuse for doing it. If the FA would man up and say: “You know what, you’re not going back out there”, to me, that’s powerful.
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