Suarez and Hansen: we should be bothered about intent, not language

The FA did a curious thing this week – they made a correct decision.  Hard to believe, but it happened.  Luis Suarez was given a hefty eight match ban (which will probably be reduced on appeal, because let’s be honest, they’re still the FA) for what he said to Patrice Evra in Liverpool’s match against Manchester United  in October.

But what’s muddied the waters has been claims that in Suarez’s native Uruguay the word he used may be socially acceptable.  And those who muddy the waters this way are wrong.  Anyone who saw the game would know that Suarez and Evra were really getting into it with one another, and so when Suarez said what he did, it was done with the intent of angering Evra by insulting him – using his ethnicity pejoratively.  There is no doubt that Suarez was being racially hateful, at the very least to gain psychological advantage in that game.
Alan Hansen and Lee Dixon on MOTD
Meanwhile, over on Match of the Day, Alan Hansen celebrated the FA’s decision but warned against complacency in the fight against racism, saying that just because some of the best players in the Premier League are “coloured” doesn’t mean there isn’t room for  improvement in ridding the game of racism altogether.

Watching it at the time, I did have to double-take when he said “coloured”, but let’s be honest – Hansen’s intentions were good.  He was backing the action taken against Suarez and saying that just because racism is a smaller issue now than it used to be doesn’t mean it’s been stamped out altogether.  And, predictably, enough people jumped on him on Twitter and on the newspaper sites that he’s now had to ‘apologise’ for using the word.

If we really want to deal with racism we should be going after the people who seek to refer to race divisively, to insult and to defame.  Save the righteous anger for those who deserve it.  Jumping on people like Hansen, whose intentions are good but whose language is a bit outdated, will only serve one purpose – to give extra ammunition to the actual racists out there.  So let’s get our priorities right, and go after the people who mean harm by what they say, eh?

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