At a time when we need calm and common-sense in the unabating racism in football row, David Cameron has decided that the best way to deal with an already ludicrously escalated sporting drama is to make it a political one as well, by announcing his intention to convene a special summit at Downing Street on the subject. If it wasn't enough to have every football writer, reporter and commentator in the nation analysing super slow-mo replays of a handshake that never was, the Prime Minister has now decided to wade into the argument as well. But to what end?
The football clubs at the heart of the row over Liverpool's Luis Suarez's refusal to shake the hand of Manchester United's Patrice Evra, fully recognise the damage the fuss is doing to them and the image of the sport and have publicly stated they want nothing more than to move on from the issue. If, as many people probably agree, the recent row has been blown out of proportion, the last message we need the Prime Minister to send is that the attention has been fully deserved and in fact, there is more required. Yet by convening this summit and elevating the situation to a whole new level of debate and discussion, that's exactly what he's done.
So what does David Cameron expect to achieve by getting involved now? When he meets with those leading figures in football (whoever they turn out to be) later this month, he'll likely be told that yes, racism is present in football and yes it is a problem, but it's being addressed, as it is by other responsible bodies across all aspects of society, and steady progress is being made.
What Cameron thinks he's going to achieve by wading in at this stage is a mystery. Few people with a even a remote familiarity with the game and its chequered history will really believe that racism in football is a new issue that the sport is just coming to terms with. Is racism an unpleasant, unacceptable aspect of the game? Yes, but no more so now than it ever has been. Is it endemic, spreading dangerously and in need of special, emergency Governmental attention? Unlikely.
We should take a step back for a second and allow ourselves to be reminded that the current furore is primarily based around just two cases of alleged and controversially proven racist comments made by players. There's no defending those actions of course, but the significant point is that they happened on national television, involving three of the country's biggest football clubs and the national team's captain at a time when the sport has never been more powerful or pervasive.
These factors don't make contraventions of tolerance and law any more acceptable, but to a far greater extent than shedding light on a cultural crisis worthy of the Prime Minister's involvement, the critical components of recent events have simply made for a juicy story which the media have taken full advantage of.
So what then does Cameron think he can bring to the table at this stage? Perhaps it will transpire that the best thing to do will be to hug a racist, or all pull together as part of a Big Anti-Racist Society. Or could this even herald the start of a War on Racism, as the tussle with Terror proved such a big hit?
In similar style to the knee-jerk reaction to Saturday's incident at Old Trafford, It would be just as useful to hold a summit on handshakes in order to find out if there really is a deeply engrained problem with the way we shake hands in 2012, epitomised by the conduct of Premier League footballers. Racism in British society is too serious an issue to accuse the Prime Minister of using the subject to score points, but there's still a hint of a politician using the popularity of the national sport to win favour. He wouldn't be the first and he won't be the last.
Racism is wrong. Most of us know that and the ones who don't are either idiots or deeply unpleasant individuals. They are not racist or idiots because of football and football is not specially responsible for breeding racists, at least not nearly to the same extent at which it is for breeding irresponsible, reckless egomaniacs.
And while the institution of football must take some of the blame for the recent fuss, there are other factors involved. The problem is that football, television and newspapers are so inextricably linked, that any action or issue on or off the field that marginally steps beyond the act of playing the game is hot, mainstream news, hungrily consumed by an avid audience.
Footballers are gods, managers living legends and clubs' status akin to that of nations, the honour and standing of which fans are more than willing to furiously defend. Of course this makes those individuals and institutions hugely influential role models and it's only right that they should be held to the highest standards of account. But none of these disturbing truisms are about to change any time soon, and particularly not thanks to the intervention of David Cameron and his summit. Not while football continues to dominate our culture and media, with the two supporting and sustaining each other. Which is at the heart of how and why this racism outcry has reached such tumultuous levels.
Racism continues to be tackled as it should be, through education and awareness raising sustained over time. We can and should continue to weed out vile fans in football stadiums if we find it cathartic to do so, though it's a small victory to simply eject and exclude these attitudes from a sports arena.
It's perhaps no bad thing that the issue of racism has been brought so sharply into focus by events on and around football pitches recently. If football has the power to force positive change and action in society at large, then it's a good use of its influence. But there's no doubt we have been seduced and distracted by the media's coverage of the recent rows, as they revel in their own hyperbole and ability to stir emotion.
What we would hope and expect is for those in a position to do so, to help put these events into perspective and encourage the less level-headed of us not to lose sight of the bigger picture. Instead David Cameron has decided to draw out an issue that is already long overdue being laid to rest, perhaps in a bid to repair some of the personal damage caused recently through being caught over bankers' bonuses.
Whatever the motivation and intention, thanks for your concern Mr. Cameron, but we'd do just as well without you on this one.
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