Nino Severino: Football has to stamp out racism once and for all - even if it means stopping games
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In his latest column, Nino Severino urges strong and swift action to stamp out the apparently growing problem of racism in sport.
As with most of the population, I really enjoy the news we can all access regarding the world of sport, health and fitness, but lately seeing the focus on racist abuse in sport, and particularly football, has been utterly depressing.
I am passionate about the positivity of sport, and what it can provide for our young generation of children, but seeing this shadow of racism being cast across it scares me so much.
I hope all the sporting governing bodies across the world will not give this cancer the opportunity to grow, and kill what for many children can be such an important part of their lives.
I was very interested to read Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA President, saying he will request football referees to be “brave” and when racial abuse raises its ugly head, to actually stop and terminate the matches.
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For me, I thought this was a courageous statement and one that I hope many of the influential powers in the game will take notice of.
If racism is left to grow, not only in football, but as seen in many other sports, what message are we sending out to the billions of children across the world who look to sport for so many life positives?
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If the sporting fraternity allows racism the opportunity to flourish, a terrible scenario may well be created – many parents across the world may decide not to encourage their children into sport, knowing full well that this world could potentially harbour a toxicity that could impact them.
I have personally witnessed, through my role, as a coach and as the chairman of The Elena Baltacha Foundation, the positive power of sport, and how the developmental opportunities offered to children in our diverse multi-racial community can benefit them in simply extraordinary ways.
Out there, across the world, right now, in the form of growing young children, are the future Jesse Owens, Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali’s, Lewis Hamilton’s and Pele’s – how many millions of talented young athletes could we potentially lose, if this problem is not addressed, and quickly!
Can you imagine the parents of some budding young tennis player, footballer, cricketer, golfer or athlete, making a decision that racism in sport is such a toxic entity, that they don’t want their children involved in sport?
This may seem a bit dramatic, but if left to flourish, this blight that is gaining traction in sport has the potential to grow and will continue to gain momentum.
Football is a sport that has given so many billions of children the opportunity to grow, flourish, develop and explore the potential of their personality and character.
I see this through my role at Ipswich Town Football Academy, where we have, and are still developing such exciting stars of football.
If racism wins in the future, in a big and powerful way, what could potentially happen to the sport? Young footballers can be affected by what they see and what they read, and so also can footballing parents – the stories are there for all to see.
Recent situations, such as Manchester City and England striker Raheem Sterling allegedly suffering disgusting racial abuse from Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge, back in December, will have a huge impact.
This was a high-profile player, receiving abuse from fans of a high-profile team, at a ground that will be known to footballing fans across the world.
Racism has such a devastating effect on athletes and this must not be underestimated – though we see them as powerful sporting stars and icons, they are, at the end of the day, just human beings, with a heart and soul, and feelings and confidences which can be affected in such an ugly way.
There are many leading individuals in the world of sport who are taking this danger very seriously – managers such as Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp have all said they would be prepared to remove their players from the pitch, if racists begin to chant or shout disgusting words.
Football is often referred to as “the Beautiful Game” – and I sincerely hope that this wonderful title can be protected by the powers who head up FIFA, UEFA and the FA.