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Tuesday, January 6, 1998 Published at 07:49 GMT


Motson called to apologise over "implied racism"

The BBC football commentator, John Motson, has been defending himself over remarks he made suggesting that it was difficult to tell black players apart.

Motson, a BBC commentator for more than two decades, was asked on Radio 5's Sportsweek programme on Sunday if there were often players who looked alike. He replied: "There are indeed, often more than two players in some cases."

He continued: "There are teams where you have got players who, from a distance, look almost identical. And, of course, with more black players coming in to the game, they would not mind me saying that that can be very confusing."

However, politicians from all parties immediately queued up to condemn his gaffe.

  • Richard Allan, Liberal Democrat community affairs spokesman and MP for Sheffield Hallam, said such attitudes were wrong and outdated. "It is unfortunate that with so many of our top sports personalities coming from the ethnic communities and doing so well flying the flag for Britain we still suffer from these racial stereotypes."
  • Asian MP, Keith Vaz, said he was "astonished" by the remarks and called on Mr Motson to apologise. Mr Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, said: "Far from adding to confusion, the arrival of black players in British football has greatly enhanced the game."
  • Tim Collins, chair of the Conservative back-bench committee on culture, media and sport, said racism was no more acceptable because it was unintentional. Mr Collins, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, Cumbria, said: "There can be no place for racism or implied racism in British football."

Ian Pannall reports on reaction to John Motson's comments (3'20")
And when Mr Motson tried to defend himself on BBC radio's Today programme he did not make things much better. "What disturbs me most about this is that race only becomes an issue when someone makes it an issue and the people who have taken my remarks out of context have caused a stir here which is not only intended, but completely inappropriate."

But Mr Motson's refusal to apologise has not endeared him to some. Brendon Batson, Deputy Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, said he believed Motson had been "extremely clumsy" in his remarks.

Batson, the first black PFA official, said: "I believe he is trying to set the record straight now, but I think he was just being extremely clumsy and I can understand why people can get upset about it.

"If there is a group of players you are having trouble identifying I can't see how it makes any difference whether they are black or whether they are white. I am sure he would have liked to convey whatever message he was trying to convey a little more appropriately."

The Commission for Racial Equality declined to comment on the row.

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