Raheem Sterling
Manchester City's English midfielder Raheem Sterling Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Racism in football has hogged headlines across the front and back pages on newspapers in recent times, thanks to players such as Raheem Sterling speaking out against the ugly issue, but Manchester United legend Dwight Yorke insists it not a resurfacing of the problem and it has always been there.

Trinidadian Yorke experienced racism first hand while playing for club and country from the late 1980s to 2009 and believes recent events have only highlighted the issue that has always been prevalent in the game.

Dwight York 2
People don’t understand if you are not black, how much the abuse gets under your skin, says Dwight Yorke. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

“It doesn’t matter if you are a player now, or back in my time, it’s always been there,” he said, speaking exclusively to Gulf News while taking time out from promoting United’s recent partnership with sunglasses company Maui Jim as the club’s official Vision Partner.

“I played in the 1980s, 90s and in the 21st century and have witnessed banana skins and all sorts of abuse. Football has come a long way in terms of trying to curb this but in the last couple of years, it seems to have gone right back again. We felt we were making progress — so this is very sad to see.”

Racism has not become a problem ‘again’, I don’t think it has ever gone away. The problem has always been there. It is how you address it that is the issue here.

- Denis Irwin

Yorke still feels the personal hurt of the abuse he suffered and thinks one must think like the victim of such abhorrent behaviour to comprehend the suffering. “People don’t understand if you are not black, how much the abuse gets under your skin. It’s all very well to say you can’t condone this behaviour but imagine you are black and how you would feel if people were taunting and throwing those remarks at you,” he said.

“It’s not nice,” he added after a pause.

Yorke’s former United teammate and fellow club ambassador Denis Irwin, who played 368 times for United over a 12-year period starting in 1990 and picked up seven Premier League winners medals, three FA Cups and helped the side win the Champions League in 1999, held a similar view on the topic.

“Racism has not become a problem ‘again’, I don’t think it has ever gone away,” he said at the Renaissance Downtown Hotel in Dubai’s Business Bay. “The problem has always been there. It is how you address it that is the issue here. Our fellow United ambassador Andrew Cole was saying that wearing a few T-shirts with a slogan on them a couple of weeks a year is not enough.

“We have seen the abuse Raheem got at Chelsea and Montenegro. That is horrendous to see. There seems to have been a lot more coverage of it this year than in previous years, but the problem has never gone away.

“Moving forward, we need to do more to keep it highlighted, because just doing it one or two weeks a year is certainly not enough.”

Cole has applied to become the new chairman of anti-racism watchdog Kick It Out and succeed Lord Herman Ouseley in the position.

Irwin welcomes the possibility of a former player taking the position and insists that only if all the leading authorities sit down together can a comprehensive solution be found. “For years and years and years, we have been saying you have to get through to people through education but it keeps coming up. It’s great to hear Coley has thrown hat in the ring for Kick It Out, because this needs addressing more and more. Players and authorities need to come together and agree on a way to take it forward. It seems to have been stuck for quite a while in the same kind of parameters. First of all it has to be talked about to see the best way to go forward. The PFA, the FA, Uefa, Fifa, they all need to get together because it’s happening in England and it is happening all over the world.”

Yorke, who also played for Aston Villa, Birmingham, Blackburn and Sunderland in England, believes strict punishment needs to be handed down to clubs and individuals found guilty of racism, and that part of the problem lies with the media and the lack of representation for black people in higher positions of power.

“There have to be more severe penalties, that’s the only way forward, both to the fan who did it and to the club as well, because that’d the only way they will start to look at themselves,” he said. “Some stiff decisions have to be made. It’s all well and good TV companies like Sky and BBC saying they don’t condone these things but there are no black people in any of these high positions. You don’t see black people presenting or commentating the football. It’s sad.”

“Also, there are next to no black managers in football either — I think there is probably two active black managers in 92 clubs in the football league and 45 per cent of the players are black in the Premier League.

“There is so much more to be done.”

Racism in football: A timeline

December 2, 2018: A Tottenham supporter throws a banana skin at Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang during the north London derby.

December 8: Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling laughs at Chelsea fans after they direct racial abuse at him during a Premier League match at Stamford Bridge.

December 9: Chelsea and London Metropolitan Police investigate the allegations, leading to four Chelsea fans being banned from the ground.

March 25, 2019: Sterling celebrates a goal for England by cupping his ears to fans who had been giving him and teammates Danny Rose and Calum Hudson-Odoi racial abuse in a Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro.

March 27: Sterling calls for Premier League to clamp down on racism.

April 2: Juventus’ Moise Kean receives racial abuse during a Serie A match against Cagliari.

April 3: Sterling leads calls for Fifa and Uefa to take a concrete stance against racism.

April 4: Leonardo Bonucci backtracks on comments where he suggested that his teammate Kean was ‘50-50’ to blame for the abuse as he celebrated in front of Cagliari fans.

April 19: Footballers in England launch the ‘Enough’ campaign with a 24-hour boycott of social media to take a stand against online abuse.

April 24: Lazio supporters display a banner, honouring fascist dictator Benito Mussolini and aimed racist insults at an AC Milan player in separate incidents before their Coppa Italia match.

April 25: Manchester City and England star Raheem Sterling has been honoured for his role in the fight against racism in football at an awards ceremony in London.

April 26: Uefa orders Montenegro to play one match behind closed doors for the racial abuse directed at England fans.

April 27: Danny Rose is ‘lost for words’ over what he regards as a lenient punishment for Montenegro.