Blatter and the Nanny state

I suspect I’m about to get a fair number of people upset and annoyed with me here but I think that the recent storm that has been kicked up by Sepp Blatter is somewhat misrepresenting what he tried to say and smells distinctly to me like a lynching job. The opinion of almost every voice on this matter seems to say that Blatter is, at best, woefully ignorant of the issues of discrimination and, at worst, clearly racist himself by suggesting that racist comments on the pitch should be dealt with by a handshake at the end of the match and then forgotten about. I can understand the uproar and, considering he is in the public limelight, it probably wasn’t the wisest of things to say, but I have to say I don’t agree with the attitude of the media.

Now don’t get me wrong – before I get tarred with the same brush people are delighting to paint him with – I don’t condone racism in any form be it verbal or non-verbal. Nor do I think that any kind of abuse (of women, children, age related or whatever) or discrimination in any form is acceptable.  I grew up in an English town in the 80s where the National Front had terrible control and saw, firsthand, the pain and suffering which victims of racism could receive. I will never forget seeing an Asian man’s stall smashed to pieces by rampaging skinheads as he himself fled out of the side door, running (literally) for his life.

Likewise, whilst living in Bangladesh, we’ve known what it is like to be on the receiving end of racism. The downside of learning more and more Bangla is that you get to understand an increasing amount of the things that are said about you as you go into the markets and the rail stations. Of course, the majority of Bangladeshis are appalled by this and the ones I know are often apologetic on behalf of those they have called “uneducated and rude beyond belief”.

So, I have no reason to defend Blatter (especially as what I know about sport you can write on the back of a postcard !) except for an incident I was told about many years ago as a young(er) teacher.

OFSTED, the much loathed group, which assesses schools and can make or break their reputation, had come into a particular school. A certain lesson had taken place and all had gone well. The teacher had done well, the class was good; lesson objectives had been met. But instead of the praise this teacher had expected, they were marched by the inspector to the Head of the school who was ‘ordered’ effectively, to suspend both the teacher from working and a student from the class.

The reason?

In the hearing of the inspector, this student had used a racist slur against a black kid in the class. The teacher had done nothing about it and this was deemed an instant “FAIL”. The inspector felt disciplinary measures were needed against the teacher and that the boy guilty of the slur needed to be brought to attention. So far, this would be reasonable action in a British school in a culture which is desperately trying to root out racist tendencies.

But what the inspector failed to accept – despite the teacher’s protests – was that it was known that these two boys were the best of friends and that what the inspector had heard was private banter. Indeed, the black kid was known to make similar remarks to his white friend which were equally racist and equally taken in good humour. This was no abusive relationship; there was no victim here. At most, a slap on the wrists for the boys and making them aware of the danger of such language being heard was needed – but not suspension for one of them and certainly not the damage of a teacher’s career.

Whilst I can’t tolerate any form of prejudice, I have observed that what seems abusive to some is not necessarily abusive to others. I worked with a Roman Catholic colleague for eight years and we had the best of working relationships and the best of respect for one another. Yet he would mock my Protestant background and I would throw insults at him related to his Catholicism such that if anyone had reported us or if it had been written down the things we said then either of us could have been in very serious trouble. In reality we laughed ourselves silly with such banter. Neither felt hurt, humiliated, dishonoured or anything else. We were typical British men who acknowledged our friendship with words which sounded the very opposite.

Similarly, my first job in Leicester was working in a garage putting radios and speakers into cars. All young men but some white and some Asian, we worked closely and we worked long hard hours, six days a week. Whilst tempers sometimes frayed, most of that time was spent in pretty typical testosterone-fuelled working class banter. The words that came out turned the air blue and were incredibly racist – in both directions – but not one person was abused. I didn’t use swearwords or racist remarks as a young, impressionable teenager who was still wet behind the ears but the result was that I never quite bonded so closely as the others. I didn’t speak ‘their language’.

Again, let me reiterate that abuse is abuse when it is felt or intended and should be stamped out without a doubt. But I’ve seen Asian friends abused in the UK by their employers without a single racist remark being uttered – they were too clever for that. It was obvious to all though, that the problem was racial. Where racism occurs on the pitch in intent, then it must be dealt with by the authorities. But I think that Blatter was attempting to say that much of what is being reported as racist is actually just competitive banter and the “handshake at the end of the match” is an indication of just this.

I spoke to a number of white friends about this before I wrote this and I found it fascinating that most were not willing to even contemplate this. “Racism is racism” was the general response “you can’t accept any racist words no matter what the true situation is.” Whilst this comes from the best of intentions, I think it reveals limited understanding of both how people relate to one another and how prejudice spreads. Stamping out the words does not stamp out an attitude. In fact it often makes things worse.

We live in a kind of legal action culture these days in the west as a result of the continuing Big Brother style Nanny state – a monster created by ourselves. We are constantly on the lookout for what others have done wrong and defending our jobs and decisions from the criticisms of others. We turn issues into rules that must fit everyone. We don’t even look to see what the truth of the matter is – are the boys friends? Do the colleagues clearly respect each other? Did the player believe he was genuinely abused? Instead it all has to be reported, written up and inquests begun. Action must be seen to be taken if none is warranted. Day by day what is seen as abusive increases and I fear a time will come when we can’t say anything without a lawyer being present. The most awful thing about all of this is that racism, true racism, won’t go away with this approach. It will merely go underground and become hidden making it much harder to root out and making the lives of many – of all skin tones – much, much harder.

About D K Powell

British freelance journalist, author, writer, editor, musician, educational consultant. I lived with Wifey, Thing I (daughter) & Thing II (son) in Bangladesh for 5-6 years working for an NGO called LAMB. Wifey led the Hospital Rehab department and I used to teach O levels at the school before going full-time as a freelance writer in 2013. Now we're back in the UK learning how to be British again. When not writing or editing, I'm busy trying to complete a Masters degree in Intercultural relations in Asian Contexts and reading way too many books at once. I also drink tea - lots of it.
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15 Responses to Blatter and the Nanny state

  1. I agree strongly with what you have written. All too often there seems to be a desire to seek out the least comment which sounds racist or to find offence where none was meant. I suppose the real problem is to do with ‘intention.’ I have been racially attacked myself. Many of the worst incidents were while I was at Catholic School, and they were because I am the Son of an Immigrant. Ironically (and this is quite funny) I am actually ‘Aryan’ – in the sense that my Father was from Latvia and my family are of Aryan decent! Yet, the attacks were aimed at me because my Father came (according to their limited understanding) from a ‘Communist’ Country – I was therefore a ‘Commie.’ They also decided to call me ‘Antichrist’ – because I had an interest in the Occult and Philosophy. On the one hand, the Church Officials visibly winced when they heard me being taunted as ‘Mr Satan’ while the Teachers just ignored the constant jibes about being the School’s “Red.” School was such fun.. not! Later, I formed friendships with Indian, Pakistani, Bengali and Gujurati boys and girls. I had a Bengali girlfriend (Brahmin) who taught me a lot about ‘caste’ – that too was difficult, because I felt I was learning about another culture’s ‘racism..’ Yet they all showed me a level of peace and contentment I have found nowhere else. I think that nowadays ‘racism’ and, to a certain extent, ‘secularism’ are dangerous subjects. There will always be ‘testosterone-fuelled banter’ which, to the outsider, will sound frenzied, hateful and full of spite: yet, as you so rightly pointed out, those who are spouting racist epithets at each other may well be the best of friends. However, when it is in public, designed to denigrate, against a stranger from a different culture – that is different! When racism is spread by the mouths of those our children hold to be their idols or ‘role models’ then it becomes a problem. And if the same language and gestures are made by politicians, media presenters, captains of industry or the clergy – it is a warning of massing hatred and intolerance to come. In the great scheme of things we are all still adult-infants, stumbling around the Universe – trying to find answers to questions that are very easy, even to small children. There is a triumphalistic attitude towards racism or racist comment, and I believe it is as harmful as racism itself. For those who look triumphantly when they have ‘caught’ someone saying something worriesome are ever keen to ‘hear’ what they want to. For those who pray – perhaps the time has come to add this line “Lord, If I have a racist heart – let it fail within me..” Namaste. Sala’am Alaikum.

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    • A waialamakum asala’am – Thank you for writing – I felt for you very strongly in how you described your childhood upbringing at school. I can sympathise in that I was bullied mercilessly at school and was always very different (I have since discovered that I probably had ADHD and still have it – that’s in another post though!) so I was always a target for others. I am not sure whether your bullying was racist or not. In once sense it very obviously was but in another it was just that you too were different and children always use ANY ammunition they can against their target. For me, I was the same race as my bullies so that was not the area of targeting. I lived in a big house (we weren’t rich but were seen as such), was taller than all my peers and pretty much all my teachers and I was interested in things others weren’t – like you I was into the occult and philosophy very heavily.

      True racism, I think, comes from a real fear and hatred towards an entire kind of people. I knew a woman who hated blacks. She could not explain why and it made no difference to the individuals she met – she just hated them. THAT was true racism. I know people who believe all homosexuals should be – and I quote – “put against a wall and shot”. That is true homophobia because it is not the bullying of an individual but a stance against an entire kind of person.

      This ultimately, as you have correctly picked up on, is the point of this post. Abuse is abuse – when it is truly felt by another. Banter is another matter altogether and by definition needs to be between friends or at least colleagues – which I think was really what was going in with this case involving Blatter. I have an Australian friends who I always attack mercilessly telling how much better the Brits are than the Ozzies. He, of course, gives as good as he gets and attacks us ‘poms’. This banter identifies us as friends. If I wrote a post attacking Australian strangers using the same language though, I would be hurling abuse in the most insulting way. As you say, publicly, to strangers and with the intention to harm – THAT’s racism and it has no place in the civilised world.

      Thank you for contributing to this important topic. I am glad some of what I say resonates with others.🙂 Namushka.

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  3. Tim says:

    Yes it’s a difficult one. My reading is that Sepp Blatter was asked if “racism on the pitch was a problem” and his response was “I would deny it. There is no racism…” (source http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/15757165.stm) and then went on to make the comment that has caused all the media storm. He said that the injured party should make steps to repair the damage – again not a bad suggestion. And by implication Sepp suggests that the individuals should not launch accusations of racism (expecting the nanny state to defend them) and should make amends with a hand-shake. I actually agree with all of that.
    So I was originally going to reply to your post saying you had got it wrong – however having read all the background – you are mostly right!
    However, my additional point is that Sepp Blatter is the leader of an organisation that commands huge influence and he has to set standards. Too often football is a mirror of real life, and the youngsters do copy the behaviours of the top players. I cringe when I see (lipread) the things Wayne Rooney says – and the attitude with which he says it. I have seen (on Match of the Day too) blatant cheating by players who know they can get away with it if the officials aren’t watching. And then the constant appealing for fouls/line calls/diving etc which is in itself a form of cheating. In short behaviour on the pitch needs to be greatly improved. Those behaviours I have seen in the youngsters playing locally as direct copies of their heroes on the pitch (not as self expressions, but mimicry). So as a Leader of football, Sepp Blatter carries a huge weight of responsibility. His comments leave him, the game of football, and humanity worse off than before. Which is a shame.

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    • Thanks Tim – Good comments! I’m glad you decided my blog was at least “mostly right” (from you that is high praise :P)!

      I think you have a two good points – one that Sepp Blatter is the leader of an organisation and the second that the behaviour on the pitch in general is bad and influences youngsters.

      I think I tentatively agree with your first and hence my blog does hint at the ill-advised announcement he gave. Fair enough. At the same time, aren’t leaders there to take risks and to speak boldly? I think he tried to do just that and I maintain that if some OTHER leader had said that then there would have been more debate and agreement. However, the press made it clear that the hounds were at the door baying for blood already and he could have almost said “I love jelly babies” and they would have pounced. I think that is unfair – even if there are good reasons why many people wanted to see him go already. Should our leaders – in any walk of life – just play safe, tow the line, not rock the boat etc.? I’m not sure I can go there – but then I am well and truly a boat rocker!!

      The second is more difficult. I agree that cheating is wrong. Period. But aggression? attitude? Can we really have a game without it? Should we? I remember just a few weeks ago on BBC radio a big news item that researchers had found that children can get hurt playing Rugby at school. “Parents need to be made aware” the reporter said suggesting that this was a big secret and was an outrage. COME ON! Its RUGBY!! Of course children will get hurt – but within limits. If we make the game too politically correct we lose the competitive edge and the sport becomes meaningless. Muhammad Ali was a genius out of the ring as much as in because he was verbally aggressive towards his opponents – “I’m going to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” speech was full of rhetoric about crushing the opponent that has continued to be mimicked to this day. If Rooney kept his antics on the pitch and not off and stayed within the limits of what is NOT cheating, then I would say that what he does (even if you find it distasteful with your lip-reading skills) is fair play. I would rather see kids mimic that on the school playing field and so find a suitable vent for their aggression, than take it onto the streets. Funnily enough, as the political brigade get their way more and more, I think we ARE increasingly seeing the violence come to the streets. Too much to make that connection? Hmm…

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  4. SR says:

    Hey Ken,

    You made great points on this blog, as always:>) We all should be afraid of not being able to say “anything that there will not be a lawyer involved. This is already true for so many situations, and one thing I blame on this, is that we “choose” to let others think and say for us. There is always an “expert” somewhere on anything anymore. I have to ask myself, “What makes these people the final authority over all situations in our lives?” Everyone goes to the “expert.” A college degree does not an “expert” make. The “media” are certainly not “experts.” GEES!!!

    Racism: Has always been with us and always will be. However it is a lot better than when I was a kid. I raised my kids not to be racist, one time they had a birthday sleep-over and I thought I had the United Nations in my house:>) This problem is one step at a time, one person at a time.

    Well I guess I have given my five-cents worth. God Bless and excellent post. SR

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    • That’s a great point SR and thanks, as always for the great support. I think when you see children like that playing with people of so many different races (as my children do in Bangladesh) then you know that they are learning the right things and avoiding racist behaviour which I firmly believe is a learnt behaviour anyway. Then it really does not matter what they say to each other, the intent is not there.

      Thanks for the comment🙂

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  5. gordon says:

    This is a difficult one. I agree with what your saying, BUT the problem is that there is always someone like the ofsted guy who cannot know the background and may misread. When the adrenalin is running we may all say things we wouldn’t normally say and if racist comments are in common use in a fun/teasing way, they may come out all wrong and be misinterpretted by outsiders. In the football case by the fans or the officials
    .

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    • Yes Gordon, I agree and, indeed, as I said in the post, maybe those boys needed a telling off for the impact on others rather than any true racism in itself. But the last time I went to a rugby or football match I heard more racism from the fans than the players and the officials are tasked with the job of being able to figure out what is intentional and what is just horse-play on the field. Thank you for contributing – I agree it is a difficult one, so thanks for your helpful comments aiding the discussion🙂

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  6. You commented on my piece on the topic ( http://pressingfootball.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/racism/ ) and I would like to comment on yours.

    I agree 100% with the points you made about racist comments (or any degrading comments) not always being malicious, but I do have to say something, without meaning to sound too much of a troll!

    Blatter’s comments followed a series of issues regarding racism on the field, namely the Suarez/Evra and Terry/Ferdinand cases. The first case arose because Evra himself reported the racist abuse to the referee, both during and after the game. John Terry was caught on camera shouting “ANTON YOU BLACK B******D, F*****G KN*****D”, and if I am not mistaken, Anton issued a statement claiming that Terry had racially abused him.

    For this reason, I don’t think it is right to defend Blatter by claiming he was talking of situations in which we simply don’t know the circumstances. I agree entirely that we live in a world obsessed by regulation & political correctness, and, in my opinion, this is not a good thing, but Blatter was asked directly about the recent racism cases, not racism in general. In both the cases in question, the victims reported racial abuse, and to claim that actual racism can be shrugged off by a handshake is wrong.

    Thanks for your comment and the article,
    Matt

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    • Thanks Matt for your comments – and I enjoyed your blog too – keep it up!

      I think that Blatter was trying to generalise a thought arising from the topic being in the limelight at the moment resulting from these cases, rather than directly linking the two. He later went on to point out how much he has done in trying to root out racism in the game and how intolerable racism (true racism) is. Now if Anton has issued a complaint it needs investigating and I don’t know what led him to feel that. The comments you tactfully allude to are nothing worse than I’ve heard on the pitch or in clubs or what I heard in my first job in Leicester. They are enough to constitute racism but not enough to indicate racist intent.

      I don’t want to presume in this case – I don’t know the people involved – but the problem of the nanny state is that we all “feel abused” very, very readily. My son has had to endure some comments at school since being back in the UK referring to his Bangladeshi upbringing. They have hurt; they have been sustained. It would be very easy to declare them as racism. But they aren’t. They are just boys taunting boys and they would find something else if it wasn’t about Bangladesh – too tall, to thin, too blonde, too clever and so on. When it became difficult and the attitude was obvious that they wanted to hurt him then we talked with the school. But we stayed far away from crying racism despite the use of the words.

      As a teacher I had a parent who complained about me claiming I hated their child because they did not choose my subject at GCSE. Everything I had done was seeh through those lights. Everyone that knows me knows I don’t care less who takes my subject and all that happened was that child had broken rules and I applied clear departmental rules to deal with it. But it was assumed my actions were prejudiced. We see prejudice far too easily and that, ultimately, is my point and the one I think Blatter tried to say. Whether he was wise to say it is, of course, a completely different matter!

      Thanks for joining in the discussion – come again Matt!!

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  7. lizjtoon says:

    Just so you know, i’m not going to have a go, to me what you say about banter is very true, so much of our daily chatter with our closest friends involves some variety of sexual, racial or personal insult meant in jest and never taken to be anything more. i have great memories of our banter, when we were at school together, and that banter covered pretty much the entire non-politically correct variety, yet we knew how much we adored each other and how much our friendship meant, this banter happened in all situations we were put into, whether it was a highly charged boys versus girls volley ball game or whilst sat together eating lunch.
    hugs ken and keep on blogging x x x

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    • Thanks Liz – grateful for the support! You’re right about that school yard banter and how much we all meant to each other. I don’t think the sports club and even the professional sports arena is much different to what you say either. Thanks for your encouragement, it’s really appreciated. xx

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  8. jacqui says:

    Interesting reading ken. I work with people from all different backgrounds and from all over the world. We often have banter which to a stranger could be misconstrued as being ‘racist’, but to us is just another part of our deepening friendship. In fact the more the banter, the closer the friendship. We all look out for one another and if any comment was made that was taken racially, I know we would be devastated. I personally have no problem with a handshake, so long as the intention behind it was well meant and not just for a quiet life.

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    • Just what I think too Jacqui! Good to hear from someone else who works with people from all kinds of backgrounds who thinks in a similar way. I think your last point “not just for a quiet life” is really important and one I failed to focus more on in the blog. I think at least some of the accusation against Blatter is the thought that he is saying is should all just be ‘swept under the carpet’ but I don’t think he was talking about that at all. Thanks for adding your thoughts – they were really helpful!🙂

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