John Barnes: Football can do nothing about getting rid of racism

Former England international John Barnes believes there is an “irrational pressure” on football to tackle racism.

The Three Lions face Switzerland in a friendly at Leicester’s King Power Stadium on Tuesday night – an occasion that will mark the 25th anniversary of the Kick It Out campaign.

The anti-racism foundation has fought for equal rights in football for a quarter of a century with high-profile backing from within the game.

But Barnes, the third-most capped black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) England international of all time behind Ashley Cole and Rio Ferdinand – feels using football in an attempt to quell racism in all walks of life is short-sighted.

“It is an irrational pressure, it is a stupid pressure,” he replied when asked by Football Paradise if there is an undue expectation on football to eradicate racism.

“Football can do nothing about getting rid of racism, society can.

Barnes believes there is an 'irrational pressure' on football to stop racism
Barnes believes there is an ‘irrational pressure’ on football to tackle racism (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“It is okay pointing the finger at Russia and saying how terrible it is in Russia but that alleviates us looking at ourselves and Gareth Southgate has said that himself. We still have a long way to go.

“How many black managers do we have? Has anything really changed?

“We can’t kid ourselves to think it is changed but it is doing what it can. What has to happen is it has to change in society not in football.

“Change it in society and it will change in football, not the other way around. But because football is media attentive, you are looking at football to drive society, you cannot do that, it is impossible.

“Before we are football people, we are members in society first – yes, football is doing what it can but in many respects the change has to come from society.”

Before the World Cup there was a furore surrounding the media coverage of Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling.

The England forward was photographed with a gun tattooed on his leg – a tribute to his late father who was shot – and many claimed the backlash towards the player stemmed from racial discrimination.

“Raheem Sterling can’t change anything, it is the people who may feel that way towards Raheem who have to change,” Barnes, an ambassador for Drink Aware’s ‘Drink-Free Days’ campaign, continued.

Sterling with his tattoo during a training session
Sterling with his tattoo during a training session (Mike Egerton/PA)

“He can do nothing to make them change their minds about whether they discriminate against him or not, they have to change their minds. They have to change their perception of him, he isn’t going to change that because he is who he is.

“Why is there a perception based on Raheem Sterling as an individual, so therefore, this is what black people are like because of Raheem Sterling?

“You wouldn’t look at Harry Kane and Paul Gascoigne if you wanted to have a perception of white people and base it on Paul Gascoigne being white and say ‘this is what white people are like’ – no you wouldn’t.”

:: Drinkaware and Public Health England have launched a new campaign urging people between the ages of 45 and 65 to have regular ‘drink-free’ days. Visit for more information.

Football Paradise Staff Reporter

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