A week is a long time in football. Only a week ago I was siding with FIFA. I thought they were right to say England shouldn't be wearing poppies in their game against Spain. But another week, another FIFA controversy only this time I'm back on the side I feel more naturally comfortable with, disagreeing with FIFA wholeheartedly.
The fact that Sepp Blatter (president of FIFA) is in trouble again for making ridiculous comments comes as no surprise to anyone. Suggesting that football is without racism and that any racist comments made by footballers during a game are all heat in the moment and can be settled with a handshake are clearly ridiculous. Of course racism is in football, just ask the 'Kick it Out' campaign or Anton Ferdinand. In a week where 2 people are on trial for the murder of the teenager Stephen Lawrence in a racist attack, it is clear that racism remains deeply embedded within our society and football is a reflection of our society.
It is because football is a reflection of our society that it is so important that racism is not tolerated in any part of the game. For sure things get said in the heat of the moment on a football pitch. But millions of people are watching, and if their own personal heat of the moment isn't on a football pitch but a street or pub then the malevolent tentacles of racism stretch that little deeper into society. A refusal to tolerate racism on the football pitch in any form sends a strong signal to those watching. A signal that says 'racism is not acceptable, even when you are really riled up and passionate and saying all sorts of things that you don't really mean... even then.. it really is not ever ok to say racist things'.
Football matches offer an opportunity to gauge social attitudes. The response of the Chelsea crowds to Paul Cannonville in the 1980s would never be seen now. The terraces' social behaviour has moved away from making monkey noises and throwing bananas and we are shocked when English players endure that kind of abuse in other countries, assuming that racism in those places must be more entrenched than in the UK. Perhaps this is why the bigger scandal here may not be what Blatter actually said (he is of course, now saying that he has been misunderstood, misquoted and is accusing the English press of being petulant because England didn't win their bid to host the World Cup) but the lack of interest in the press outside of the UK in these comments.
There is a long way to go before racism is kicked out of football. FIFA really isn't helping.