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Stamping out soccer racism should start with a handshake

The FA can take the lead, but Evra and Suarez can start the ball rolling with a firm grip

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 September, 2012, 10:36pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 September, 2012, 3:12am

What’s in a handshake? Everything it seems. They have long been symbolic of friendship, co-operation and sportsmanship as well as presenting diplomatic minefields – little wonder the short ritual has been examined over the decades by an army of sociologists and cultural attachés.

Indeed, Professor Geoffrey Beattie from the University of Manchester has developed a mathematical formula for the perfect handshake which takes into account 12 variables, including eye contact, spoken greeting, hand temperature and dryness(illustrated below).

The mind boggles. But  Beattie’s genius has relevance because during the past seven days English football has been dominated by the art of the handshake, or the snub of them.

Last week, Chelsea’s John Terry was once more snubbed by Anton Ferdinand in true pantomime fashion, as was Ashley Cole before the QPR match. Ex-England captain Terry was cleared of racially abusing Ferdinand in July but clearly the case goes unanswered in the QPR player’s eyes.

To snub or not to snub a proffered paw has become a serious dilemma among a few of the EPL’s stars and one wonders if it is not time for the FA to engrave  Beattie’s mind-scrambler into its players’ code of conduct, or – as some have called for this week – scrap the pre-kick-off ritual altogether.

Of course, Terry is used to being shake-snubbed. Wayne Bridge infamously refused the home-wrecking philanderer and former teammate a palm back in 2010.

Tomorrow  at Anfield there is another tense finger gripper in the offing when Liverpool’s Luis Suarez squares up for another shake-off against Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. Suarez was banned for eight matches and fined £40,000 (HK$502,500) for racially abusing the United defender last season. The Uruguayan refused Evra’s hand ahead of the traditional grudge match in February.

Both clubs say they are confident the pair will bury the hatchet and shake on it. And clearly the players know their spat pales into insignificance given the gravity of the game – the first to be played at Anfield since the latest Hillsborough report cleared Liverpool fans of blame for the deaths of 96 supporters during an FA Cup semi-final tie against Nottingham Forest in April 1989.

Their symbolic handshake will add to the number of tributes tomorrow. Captains Steven Gerrard and Nemanja Vidic will release 96 balloons and there will also be several crowd mosaics. “The Truth” will be displayed on the Kop, “Justice” on the Lower Centenary Stand and “96” on the Anfield Road end.

“It is going to be a very emotional day,” said United boss Alex Ferguson. “We will support Liverpool in every way we can.”

Under usual circumstances such words would sit uncomfortably with a section of hard-core United supporters. And Ferguson’s sentiments would be spurned with a cackle of derision among the Liverpool faithful, such is the historically deep-rooted  dislike, putting it mildly, between the two teams. The Old Trafford board criticised a section of their supporters who indulged in tasteless anti-Liverpool taunts  last weekend.

Down the years, both sets of fans have shown great insensitivity, with United fans taunting Liverpool’s about Hillsborough, and Liverpool’s mocking United over the 1958 Munich air crash. Supporting either of these clubs is clearly not for the thin-skinned.

The grudges felt by Ferdinand and Evra might be overshadowed by recent revelations but another report published this week by the British government appears to vindicate their grievances. The Culture, Media and Sport Committee report found that racism remained a “significant problem”  despite improvements in recent years.

Most fans would agree with the report’s findings, that behaviour and the atmosphere at  matches had “changed hugely” since the 1970s and ’80s, “when racial and other forms of abuse were common”.

It said initiatives and charities such as Show Racism the Red Card  have helped reduce racism where it was most prevalent – on the streets, in the grounds and online. This is clearly evident to any supporter but more was still needed to be done, the report said – especially breaking down the glass ceilings in boardrooms.

“A lack of ethnic diversity in management and boardroom positions at many English clubs is holding back the fight against racism,” the report concluded.

Outside British football, racism remains a significant problem. Euro 2012 saw instances of racist chanting at training sessions and matches. The Croatian Football Federation was fined €80,000  (HK$805,000) after fans racially abused Italian striker Mario Balotelli. 

“We believe it is for the FA to take the lead and set the example for everyone, from football authorities at all levels to the grass-roots groups, to follow,” said MP John Whittingdale, inquiry chairman.

True, the governing body  should seek to lead the rest of the world in stamping out racism, and Evra and Suarez can start the ball rolling with a quick read of Beattie’s formula – followed by a firm grip in front of the global audience tomorrow.