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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 April, 2004, 02:03 GMT 03:03 UK
Standing up to football racists
Football
Joss Johnson says racism is rife in the amateur game
As a new campaign to kick racist abuse out of amateur football is launched, BBC News Online's Liam Allen talks to a coach with first-hand experience of the problem.

Joss Johnson has been involved in football for more than 20 years and says he has experienced racism on a regular basis throughout that time.

He now coaches at Leicester's Highfield Rangers Football Club, which he says has a "rich mix of ethnically diverse" players.

We try to teach them discipline and how to deal with it but sometimes it's hard
Joss Johnson
He told BBC News Online: "My experience of racism stems from my involvement as a player, as well as a coach - I've seen it on the field and off the field. I've experienced it myself in terms of verbal and physical abuse."

Mr Johnson, 42, says that his players experience racism week-in, week-out.

He says this is largely verbal, although he is convinced that some challenges on the field of play constitute "racially-motivated malicious intent".

"The problem is, though, that malicious intent is hard to prove", he said.

He is proud of the way his players react to racist taunts but says that they can only take so much.

"We try to teach them discipline and how to deal with it but sometimes it's hard."

'New forms'

Mr Johnson said he would be "here all day" if he had to recount every instance of racism in football he had experienced but some stick in his head more than others.

"Recently a seven-year-old boy came off the pitch and said to his coach 'why are they calling me a paki?'", he said.

He says European asylum seekers who play for Highfield receive the same amount of abuse as black and Asian players.

"Racism takes many forms, we're talking about on-field abuse for asylum seekers - that's the new form of racism.

"I have a friend in a pro club who, because of his race and his facial growth, he is constantly being called Osama."

Punched and attacked

One of the worst instance of racism he has seen culminated in a protracted series of disciplinary hearings.

In November, 2002, an incident in a Highfield game led to a 15-year-old black player being punched and attacked by a white player from the opposition team.

The game was promptly abandoned and both clubs were fined for causing the game to be abandoned.

There are not many referees who are prepared to stand up and say there was a criminal act committed on the pitch
Joss Johnson
At an appeal against the decision, on the grounds that it was the racially-motivated attack that had caused the game to be abandoned, their case was dismissed.

Eventually, a further appeal at the Football Association's Soho House resulted in the charges being dropped.

Mr Johnson says the case was a perfect example of the drawn-out, expensive and time-consuming disciplinary process which puts black players off making complaints.

Unusually, Mr Johnson says, the club's case was eventually proven to be correct because the match referee had made a note of the 15-year-old player's attacker making racist remarks.

Unusual, says Mr Johnson, because "there are not many referees who are prepared to stand up and say there was a criminal act committed on the pitch".

"The ones that do tend to find themselves isolated", he added.

I can absolutely guarantee you that this weekend in the Leicestershire leagues, and in individual leagues all over the country, there will be some form of racial abuse
Joss Johnson
But Mr Johnson, an active campaigner against racism in football, remains hopeful that things can change for the better.

He points to the work of organisations like Kick It Out as reasons to be more hopeful about the future and says that educating children from a young age about the values of good sportsmanship can remove ignorance.

But in the short term, says Mr Johnson, the problem continues.

"I can absolutely guarantee you that this weekend in the Leicestershire leagues, and in individual leagues all over the country, there will be some form of racial abuse."


SEE ALSO:
Fans arrested over racial chants
10 Nov 03  |  England
Youth 'key' to tackling racism
27 Oct 03  |  Scotland


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