Belfast Telegraph

Don't let race row reach fever pitch

English football, particularly the Premiership, has one of the most multi-cultural and multi-racial mix of players of any soccer league in the world. Black, Asian and South American players bring their own special talents to the game, are idolised by their fans and incidents of racialism are remarkable for their rarity. Indeed, English teams playing in Europe, particularly in Eastern Bloc countries, are far more likely to be subjected to racial abuse there than at home.

That wasn't always the case. Not so many years ago black players on English grounds were habitually abused by rival fans by both words and actions. However, in recent times determined efforts by the football authorities and fans have reduced incidents of racialism on English grounds to the minimum. Therefore it would be sensible not to overreact to recent high profile cases which have seen Chelsea and England captain John Terry facing criminal charges over remarks made on the field and Liverpool's Luis Suarez banned for eight games for insulting another player.

Even pundit Alan Hansen had to apologise for calling black players coloured. He said sorry immediately and that should be the end of the matter. It was an unthinking remark rather than meaning any offence, but it shows the need for everyone to be careful about language when race is involved. Strong action should be taken against derogatory comments with racial overtones when that is clearly the intention of those making them.

Yet this is not the time to whip up some moral debate on racism in football in England, or any other part of the UK. While it is an issue that has gained some prominence in recent days, there is no suggestion that it is widespread in the game or among players. Intemperate words can be spoken in the heat of battle, but these incidents should be seen for what they are, isolated examples of unacceptable behaviour. The UK's record on racism in sport stands comparison with any other country.

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