Racism? It Just Isn't That Black and White

Article excerpt

Byline: RICHARD LITTLEJOHN

WHEN Arsenal's black centre-forward Ian Wright came face to face with his new Portuguese team-mate Luis Boa Morte, he was forced into an immediate double-take.

'Blimey,' he exclaimed. 'It's me.' So striking were the physical similarities between the two men that they could have been looking in a mirror. Newspapers ran back-page pictures inviting readers to spot the difference.

In fact, when Boa Morte first took the pitch at Highbury, the Arsenal faithful started chanting 'Ian Wright, Wright, Wright' before they realised they'd got it wrong, wrong, wrong.

It was just as well that Wright himself was the first to draw attention to his doppelganger and the difficulty in telling them apart. Had it been the unfortunate John Motson, he would probably have found himself up before the star chamber of the Commission for Racial Equality.

As it is, Motty - the nation's favourite football commentator - now stands accused of racism as a result of some innocuous remarks he made during a BBC Radio 5 Live interview at the weekend.

Asked by Eleanor Olroyd whether there were any players he had difficulty telling apart, Motson replied: 'There are indeed - often more than two players in some cases. There are teams where you have got players who, from a distance, look almost identical. And, of course, with more black players coming into the game, they would not mind me saying that that can be very confusing.' Pretty tame stuff, you might think. Little more than stating the obvious. Yet from the incendiary reaction from across the political spectrum, you would have thought that Motson had called for the revival of the slave trade, the introduction of apartheid in Britain and the enforced repatriation of all immigrants.

Knees jerking as if he had just been tackled

from behind by Vinny Jones, Labour MP Keith Vaz proclaimed himself 'astonished' and called on Motson to apologise.

Labour wants everyone to apologise for everything these days. Perhaps while Vaz was at it he could have asked Motty to say sorry to the Germans for Geoff Hurst's disputed goal in the 1966 World Cup final.

The Lib Dems, inevitably, rushed to join the cross-party lynch mob and even Tim Collins, the chairman of the Tory backbench committee on culture, media and sport, labelled Motson a racist. Collins said even if it was unintentional, racism was still unacceptable.

NO ONE hesitated for a moment to consider whether what Motson had said, intentionally or otherwise, was actually racist.

No one made any attempt to examine the facts or maintain a sense of proportion - not even the Tory spokesman, in his determination to prove to his leader's new constituency at the Notting Hill carnival that he could be even more PC than his political opponents.

Motson was found guilty without trial. In late 20th century Britain there is no defence to a charge of racism. The accusation, especially if repeated loud enough, is sufficient. Nor is there any more heinous crime.

Motson's protestations of innocence cut no ice. All he was saying, he tried to explain, was that if there are five or six black players on a pitch going for the ball at the same time it can, in certain circumstances, be difficult to tell them apart.

He could have gone on to say that where there are half a dozen bald players on the pitch, or several blond players in the same team, it can be equally difficult. During Sunday's FA Cup tie at Stamford Bridge, there were four or five different Chelsea players of assorted nationalities with shaved heads. …