England and Sterling forced into toxic, confrontational culture war


This should be a stage to embarrass football’s governing bodies in the change.

The Football Association (FA) has called on FIFA to investigate reports of racist chanting against Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham, following England’s World Cup qualifier in Budapest against Hungary Thursday.

England’s governing body expressed “disappointment at reports of racism after the final whistle” and took statements from players to present to FIFA.

The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) admitted that the object throwing was a mistake, but did not mention racism in its post-match statement.

What was seen was a predictable depressing scene.

It’s easy to forget that Borussia Dortmund midfielder Bellingham is only 18 years old. He is a child born in Stourbridge to Denise and Mark Bellingham, who pursued his football dream at Birmingham City Academy while attending Priory School.

As most boys his age choose their college, Bellingham has found himself at the forefront of a toxic and confrontational culture war.

Sterling, 26, is also a young man but he has inspired the next generation. The Manchester City forward is one of England’s leaders, especially for young, ethnically-based players who know they will be subjected to racial abuse on the international stage.

English players have encountered Nazi symbolism and monkey chants in the recent past, but also face prejudice in their own country. Charges have been brought against individuals in the UK for racial abuse of black English players following the final penalty shootout loss of Euro 2020.

And while more difficult to contend with, Sterling also skillfully exposed the subconscious biases of his country’s media culture.

Tackling unconscious prejudices is a continuous and difficult struggle and outright racism must be tackled at the institutional level. FIFA and UEFA have the tools at their disposal, with observers at every match. They should be educated to look for racist symbols, gestures and audible abuse.

Governing bodies should impose tougher penalties on offending nations – Hungary in this case – or their anti-racism campaigns look like empty gestures.

In addition, they should not lend their marks to questionable diets.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has previously been pictured with Hungarian President Victor Orban. Meanwhile, Orban, who has criticized a “provacative” knee grip and pushed through anti-LGBT legislation in his home country, has been publicly congratulated in the past by UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin.

As those responsible for the game fail to read the play, young people like Bellingham face abuse.

All they can do is create inspiring images through their performances during the 90 minutes they are on the pitch. The photographs of Sterling celebrating his first goal with objects raining down on him will show the next generation that there is nothing to fear.

Likewise, Declan Rice and Jack Grealish drinking the beers thrown at them show a willingness of the white majority to support their friends.

Manager Gareth Southgate has set the tone for how Whites should act in these situations. He listens to those who suffer the offense and he is also a quick reminder that the UK needs to get its own house in order.

“[Punishments] are for others, “he said after the game, a 4-0 victory.” Our players can do nothing more than what they have done in the last two or three years to try to do send the right messages, take the right positions, and it’s up to others to protect them.

“It’s up to me to protect them basically, but the authorities to protect them too.”

While the families of these stars will be proud, they know their young sons, brothers and nephews don’t deserve to be exposed to this vile side of humanity.

The political leaders who authorize these actions should bear witness to the results of what they have done.

Meanwhile, abandoned by those in power, England players must support Sterling and face the culture war in their World Cup qualifying campaign.


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