THE BLOG
31/10/2011 19:02 GMT | Updated 31/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Debate About Racism in Football Isn't Helped by John Terry and Luis Suarez Cases

Racism, it appears, has become another piece of point scoring over rival clubs, or something that should be as vigorously defended as if it were a dubious red card. It is not.

Attitudes to racism in football in the UK have, thankfully, changed to the extent where you'd largely expect instances of racist abuse to bring swift condemnation all round. Or, if said instances were still under investigation, at least a sensible discussion.

In the last two weeks, we've had anything but. Racism has almost become a secondary issue in the discussions surrounding John Terry and Luis Suarez, which in itself is a disturbing development. It is far too important an issue to be reduced down to petty club squabbles or the aggressive myopic defenses of their team from fanatical supporters. Yet that is what it has become.

The allegations of racism against both Terry and Suarez are a minefield, and a nightmare for the authorities to deal with. With both players disputing the charge, the cases are far from clear cut. But football doesn't do nuance, so we're left with a strange limbo where the players are either unquestionably guilty or innocent, depending on your allegiances - a sort of Schrodinger's racism, if you will.

Terry is many things - and hardly the most shining example of humanity - and Suarez is no angel himself, but they are not racists. At least not currently. They are under investigation, and may yet be convicted of racism. But that does not mean they are guilty as soon as an allegation is made. It simply means we don't yet know.

And that may be hard to prove. Were Terry's remarks taken out of context? Is there any independent evidence beyond Suarez and Patrice Evra's words to support or disprove the allegation. There is every chance they may never be proven. Which is not the same as not guilty.

The authorities are investigating, as they should. What is less helpful are the actions of others in the game.

Those fans and others on Twitter concluding Terry's guilt and acting as judge, jury and executioner are not helpful, but then neither are Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas' comments dedicating wins to his captain and implying that because Terry plays for England, we should ignore it all.

Equally, Liverpool fans starting a #JusticeForSuarez hashtag or Manchester United fans aggressively deciding on the Uruguayan's guilt help nobody. Racism, it appears, has become another piece of point scoring over rival clubs, or something that should be as vigorously defended as if it were a dubious red card. It is not.

We appear to have reached a point where our individual values and morals take a back seat to the value we place on the club we support.

Never mind that the allegation is as serious as a racial insult, the lines are drawn on which club the given party plays for, rather than pausing to consider exactly what is being defended. You sense a player could be convicted of a vicious murder or sexual assault and fans of the club would still defend him, if he was one of the star players.

Of course a club should offer qualified support to the accused, until they are found guilty or innocent. But the aggressive unquestioning defence we see from Chelsea and Liverpool relegates a dialogue around racism into the background.

As a result, we're seeing plenty of unpleasant comments around the issues that deserve to be strongly challenged but instead have slipped into the melee.

Wigan owner Dave Whelan's remarks that those making complaints are "out of order" and should just "get on it with" are, at best, crassly ignorant and should have received more attention than they have done.

Meanwhile the racial abuse directed towards Stan Collymore and Jason Roberts on Twitter is shamefully unacceptable, yet have been justified because the pair have offered critical comments towards Liverpool and Chelsea on the subject. Neither deserve to be racially insulted as a result of offering an opinion, no matter how strongly somebody may disagree with that opinion.

Terry and Suarez may well be found not guilty. They may not. Or their remarks may be found not proven. The circus around both cases will undoubtedly hit fever pitch.

Amidst all this, the fact this brouhaha was sparked by alleged racism will be relegated to a side issue or a stick with which to beat any one of a number of parties. And the good work around racism and English football will be set back by several years.