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You don’t necessarily need to be a football fan to be aware of the two high-profile racism cases that have surrounded English football over the past few months, particularly as both have taken spectacularly controversial turns in the last week. And as we regularly run diversity workshops, we have been watching events unfold with growing interest.

The background

The first case, involving John Terry, ultimately became the catalyst for the very public disagreement between then England Manager, Fabio Capello, and his employers, the FA, resulting in Capello’s resignation. However, it is the second case which concerns us more. Liverpool player Luis Suarez was accused of racist abuse towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra back in mid-October. After an investigation in which he was found guilty of almost a dozen counts of racist language, Suarez was given an 8 match ban and a £40,000 fine.

This weekend saw Suarez play his second game after serving the ban – and a game in which he came face to face with Patrice Evra and Manchester United again. Evra, wishing to put the matter to behind them, offered his hand to Suarez in the pre-match respect handshake – which Suarez ignored.

Denial

What is particularly interesting here is not just the actions of Suarez, but the way the situation has been handled by his manager, Kenny Dalglish. A couple of weeks after the investigation started, he bemoaned the length of time it was taking, and stated, “whoever is the guilty party, whether it’s the person who said it or the accuser, [should] get their due punishment … For me, I don’t see racism, as far as this football club is concerned, apparent in any way, shape or form.”[i] Many people found his initial reponse to the situation poor and ungracious.

Suarez was found guilty just before Christmas, and in his defence did not deny using the racial reference – rather, his explanation was that in his home country he uses the term affectionately and, indeed, addresses some of his own Liverpool teammates by the term. 24 hours after the guilty verdict, Suarez’s Liverpool teammates warmed up for their next game wearing shirts with Suarez’s picture on them, as a show of support for him – and furthermore, so did manager Dalglish.[ii] Upon Suarez’s return from the ban a week ago, Dalglish praised his performance and said it was good to have him back in the team, unadvisedly declaring, “He should never have been away.”[iii]

Support the man, not his actions.

Dalglish’s unwavering but misguided public support for his employee has quite justifiably been misconstrued as supporting his behaviour. It is entirely possible for him to have supported his player and still said, “Suarez was wrong in what he said, he accepts that, he’s served his punishment, and as a club we will act to ensure this does not happen again.”

The chairman of football’s anti-racism group Kick It Out was certainly able to tell the difference between the man and his actions, “This charge is not saying Luis Suarez is a racist. It’s saying, on this occasion, he used racist language. It doesn’t make him a bad guy – he needs to learn what is acceptable.”[iv]

Lack of education

Ultimately, it appears the whole saga began with a lack of education. Suarez’s employers failed to educate him on what is unacceptable and inappropriate in this culture and the ban should have been a hard, but lasting, lesson to Suarez. However, the continued indulgence by his employers has led Suarez to believe he is the victim in the current situation, and the lack of a handshake at the weekend indicates absolutely no lessons have been learned.

We explore case studies like this on our Diversity workshops. If you want to reduce the chances of being faced with a similar situation at your workplace, why not book a place for your company on our Learning Lunch, “Diversity and Inclusion at Work”? It’s a great way to get everyone up to date on the latest legislation, good practice and new thinking on diversity and inclusion in the time it takes to eat a sandwich.

Call us on 01784 605005 or email info@ljalearning.co.uk