Racism in football: John Barnes accuses England of hypocrisy

England football legend John Barnes has accused the country of hypocrisy in the reaction to the racial abuse of Danny Rose and Raheem Sterling.

The pair were subjected to racist chants by some Montenegro fans during England’s 5-1 Euro 2020 qualifier on Monday.

As a consequence Uefa has charged Montenegro with “racist behaviour” and launched disciplinary proceedings.

The racism has led to widespread criticism of Montenegro in Britain but Barnes told Sky Sports that such a response is hypocritical given the prejudice that still exists in the UK.

What about Chelsea?

The former Liverpool and England winger pointed to the abuse that Sterling received playing for Manchester City against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge earlier in the season.

“I think that it is quite hypocritical that we want to talk about Montenegro and say how terrible it is when we have not taken care of the problem here,” said Barnes.

“It does not feel any different to how it felt when Raheem Sterling was racially abused by Chelsea fans. Up and down the country every single week at football matches you have black football players being racially abused so why is this any different?”

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was also a victim of racist abuse when a Tottenham fan threw a banana at him during December’s north London derby, and Barnes says too little is being done in Britain to tackle the scourge.

“We are really not tackling the issue here,” said Barnes. “Overt racism probably has gone out of the game, but in the last six months you can see what’s happening even here in this country.

“If you’re talking about making teams play behind closed doors – you’ve got the high-profile situation of Raheem Sterling at Manchester City – but you go to the League One, League Two and non-league games and you’ll hear racist abuse.”

Blame game

There have been calls in some quarters for Montenegro to be banned or docked points in their Euro 2020 qualification campaign, but Barnes wonders why it is there’s never the same moralising when racism happens at Chelsea or Tottenham.

“Is there a drive to close all of those stadiums or get those teams banned? There is not,” he said. “Once we then look at Montenegro and these other eastern European countries and say how terrible it is out there, it absolves us of responsibility for what’s happening here.” 

Society must change

In Barnes’s view, docking points or handing out bans is a superficial reaction to racism, and the problem needs a more profound response.

“I understand the reason why people feel we have to do this, but how many years have we been doing this and nothing has changed?” said Barnes.

“If it has not worked, let’s try a different approach. The solution is to tackle it in society and once we do that it will disappear from all walks of society of which football is one.

“You can’t say to a football fan, ‘keep your mouth shut on a Saturday, but for the other six days of the week you can do whatever you want’, and then say we are getting rid of racism.

“We have to decide whether we want to get rid of it, or if we don’t want to hear it. All we are doing by passing laws is saying, ‘you can be as racist as you want, but not in a football ground’.”


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