In a week when Dani Alves, the great Brazilian right back, turns the tables on racist bullies, we ask why is children's football not racist and how can we keep it that way?
Dany Alves playing for Barcelona versus Villa Real last Sunday was the victim of racist bullies who threw bananas at him as he was preparing to take a corner kick. Dani surprised everyone and turned the tables by picking up the banana and eating it in front of the crowd before taking the corner kick.
It was a great way of responding and has brought widespread support and publicity in the media, social media and has been widely backed by fellow football stars and senior leadership of the beautiful game.
I have always felt that reacting badly by getting upset or angry at the actions of racist bullies gives them what they want. They want a reaction, they want you to feel bad and they want you to take your mind off the game and help their own team. Dani didn't let them get the better of him and Barcelona from 2-0 down went on to win 3-2. Deserved comeuppance for the baddies!
What Dani did and what others that have come to his support have done is to negate the impact of the racist acts and it even turns the tables on them.
Specifically it does three things:
· Firstly, it shows that he has a sense of humour and that the bullies did not upset him and cannot get to him - so sending a clear message of don't bother!
· Secondly, it brings the incident to everyone’s attention in a novel and newsworthy way.
· Thirdly, it turns the spotlight on the Villa Real fans who were seeking to gain an advantage for their team and shows them and their team in a very bad light.
This got me to thinking, this couldn’t happen in children's football – or could it? Thankfully In all my years I have not seen racism in children's football and hopefully I never will. I could imagine where there are bad behaving parents getting heated and confrontational with other parents that abusive language and forms of racism could occur. Children's football is a different environment and a different situation overall.
Children love to play football and have fun whilst exhibiting strong competitive instincts. They do however have a great sense of fairness and take a more caring view of the world than us adults. They are also self-regulating and would not like anyone that was calling other players names of any kid. They would shun that person and show their friends that it was not nice. Funny enough they have a greater sense of what is right and what is wrong than many adults and especially football fans.
We as adults should recognise this sense of fairness and the caring for each other that children show. This sense of what is right should underpin all our behaviour surrounding sports. Adults have big lessons to learn from children. We also have a responsibility to make sure that over competitive and aggressive parents do not sour our children's minds. We have a responsibility to make sure that bad sportsmanship does not creep into our game. Win lose or draw the spirit is of fun, enjoyment and respecting your opposition. A camaraderie with your own and the playing teams players is to be encouraged and protected.
It is the fairness of a child's mind that keeps kids football decent at this level. To maintain this we parents and the wider adult community have to take a responsibility not to poison the children's culture with our tribal natures and win at all costs mentality.
We as adults also have the responsibility to make sure that other adults do not change this culture of fairness and caring. Over-zealous parents are the first step on the way to an attitude that puts winning over good behaviour. And of winning over enjoyment and cheating over fairness.
We have a responsibility to support Dani and his use of humour and standing up to the racist bullies. We salute you Dani and encourage all to unite against this scourge of modern football.