RonnyK/ Pixabay
RonnyK/ Pixabay

Chelsea youth racism investigation indicative of darker side of football

Racial slurs, ‘black versus white’ training games and career ending threats – Chelsea’s description of the most recent bout of allegations concerning its youth team as ‘abhorrent’ does not need to be debated. What does need unpicking, however, is the time it has taken for these accusations to surface.

These allegations shed light on the kind of abuse that was, unfortunately, normalised and standardised in football…

Events alleged to have taken place at Chelsea in the 1980s and 90s do not constitute the type of racism that had come to dominate football at the time, but something even more sinister. Rather, they are accusations of racial discrimination being used to undermine, intimidate, and ultimately silence children.

These allegations do not only shed light on the kind of abuse that was, unfortunately, normalised and standardised in football, but also expose how the power individuals wielded within clubs made them feel invincible and untouchable. The most sickening aspect of this entire situation is that they were right in feeling that way. Williams and Rix, with the ability to make or break the career of any youth player, seem to have realised the leeway their authority allowed them and if the accusations are true, they exploited it ruthlessly.

Coaches should be invested in their players, care for their wellbeing and have their backs against all odds,

At the heart of this entire situation is something even darker than the mindless racial abuse thrown from the stands in the 1980s; race was not being used just as an insult or slur but as a way of knocking confidence, undermining players’ self-belief and silencing any objections they may have had. Discrimination is horrific enough from random strangers; it is difficult to imagine how players must have felt under fire from their own coaches.

The testimony of one ex youth player states that, even more shockingly, Williams justified his abusive language by suggesting that if players couldn’t deal with his own tirades, they would be ill equipped to play in front of crowds. If true, this is a poor excuse for another excuse. Coaches should be invested in their players, care for their wellbeing and have their backs against all odds. Suggesting that the questioning of outright racism is in any way a weakness hardly fulfils that. We will never know how many youth players at Chelsea could have been something special.

That Chelsea are now offering counselling to any ex youth players affected by this ordeal is a positive sign of things to come…

Our beautiful game has come a long way. Campaigns such as Kick It Out, increasingly strict measures from FIFA and the provision of welfare officers, physios and doctors to offer support have all made a positive difference. That Chelsea are now offering counselling to any ex youth players affected by this ordeal is a positive sign of things to come; speaking about these experiences is finally considered an indicator of strength, rather than weakness.

There is more to do though. Clubs nationwide need to reduce the untouchability and celebrity status of managers and coaches. They need to be aware accountability procedures are in place. Confidential services need expansion, so that players feel coming forward won’t harm their careers. This is especially important for smaller, non-premier league clubs without large infrastructures or big budgets, and is where the real danger for the future lies.

Chelsea should consider how best to create an environment in which younger players are given a voice that is listened to, believed and acted upon…

No doubt there will now be a real investigation, and it is reassuring to see that the club have brought in Barnardo’s to oversee it. But we know the score already. In the initial investigation, lawyers poured over evidence and the Metropolitan Police launched its own line of questioning, but to no avail. Whilst Chelsea seem determined to take the case seriously and there are few fears of a whitewash, there is still a difficult gap to bridge between a transparent investigation and hard results.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – if Rix and Williams are to go down in the history books at all, it will be as the cowards they are. It is not enough, though. Perhaps, as Chelsea attempt to right the wrongs of a previous generation, they should consider how best to create an environment in which younger players are given a voice that is listened to, believed and acted upon: a voice not held hostage by nasty coaches whose power has gone to their heads.

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