Rio and Anton Ferdinand finally speak of disappointment with players' union over racism row
Rio and Anton Ferdinand last night finally broke their silence on the racism rows which have divided football as they expressed disappointment at the approach of the PFA in the past year and backed the calls for action made by Jason Roberts.
In a statement, the brothers said they wished to work "within football's existing organisations towards the betterment of the game and to achieve immediate action".
After being prime movers in the decision of some players not to wear the Kick It Out T-shirt at the weekend, the Ferdinands were under growing pressure to state what changes they were demanding. In a joint statement released yesterday they said: "It has been a year since the incident [of John Terry's racist abuse] at Loftus Road. During that time, some of the deep divisions that exist in football have been exposed. In the coming months there will be ongoing discussions, we are sure, on finding a way forward.
"On the issue of Kick It Out, we would like to go on record to say what fantastic work they have done in the past regarding education and awareness. However, times change and organisations need to change with them. We are more than happy to join the discussion, privately, to make Kick It Out more relevant in its fight to stamp out racism in football."
The brothers' disappointment echoed the sentiments expressed by Roberts and the Reading striker was encouraged and vindicated in his stand yesterday when racial equality improvements he has urged the PFA to pursue for 12 months featured in a new six-point plan released by the union.
Roberts was in discussion with the PFA over its plans yesterday and feels progress may finally be under way, though the Premier League and FA's surprise that the union issued them without prior consultation suggests that it was responding on the hoof after the player detailed his frustrations.
The PFA had not responded to calls in the past two days seeking a reaction to Roberts' comments.
The PFA chief executive, Gordon Taylor, said the union wants tougher penalties for racist abuse, including making it potentially a sackable offence, culprits ordered to attend awareness programmes and a form of the "Rooney rule" to boost the number of black coaches and managers.
Some of the concerns detailed by Roberts in yesterday's Independent were not addressed by the PFA's six points and there were also immediate doubts expressed at the Premier League about whether the "Rooney rule" – which requires clubs to interview minority candidates for head coaching and executive jobs – would be workable, given the need for it to be applied across the European Union.
However, there is at last a sense of action for some of the 30 players and ex-players so frustrated by issues like the size of the PFA equality unit and the lack of profile and resources going into Kick It Out that they attended a lobby of PFA headquarters two weeks ago.
The Independent understands that no players have been approached by the human rights lawyer Peter Herbert and that suggestions he is trying to create a breakaway union for black players are wide of the mark. Instead, the idea is of a support organisation working within the football establishment, which would lobby for players' rights and pursue racial harmony in the same way that the National Black Police Association and the Society of Black Architects does.
Roberts, Rio and Anton Ferdinand and others will be contacted by Herbert's Society of Black Lawyers in the next few weeks and the PFA may see in their initiatives precisely the kind of activity that Roberts and others want. For example, Herbert will make representations to the Serbian government about dealing with fans who racially abused England Under-21 players last week. "Even the Foreign Office have not contacted the Serbian government about this," Herbert said. "We know what we are doing and how we can do it."
The Premier League said it had received no proposal from the PFA despite regular meetings with the union and there were doubts raised at the League about the practicality of introducing gross misconduct charges to players' contracts for racist abuse. That involves "complex legal issues," the League said.