Culture, Media and Sport Committee - Racism in FootballWritten evidence submitted by Chukwuma Uju

(1) My name is Chukwuma Uju; I am a football fan who has been involved in the game over a 30 year period, I am writing in my personal capacity.

(2) I will confine my comments to the way that Liverpool FC and Luis Suarez have responded to the incident which led to Suarez being banned for eight matches; my belief is that Liverpool FC, by their actions between October 2011 and February 2012, have brought the game of football into disrepute.

(3) Liverpool FC are a club with an illustrious history, I am therefore shocked at how they have conducted themselves during the Evra/Suarez incident. It began, perhaps understandably, with them supporting their player while the matter was being investigated. However, once the Independent Commission had found him guilty of racial abuse, the club needed to show a responsible attitude. They should have condemned Suarez’s actions, apologised on his behalf (and required him to do the same), punished him for gross misconduct and then reiterated their stance against all forms of racism. Instead, we were treated to two ludicrous press releases1 which sought to undermine both the FA and Patrice Evra, and the infamous incident where Liverpool players wore ghastly “support Suarez” T-shirts prior to their match against Wigan Athletic FC (on 21 December 2011).

(4) Central to Liverpool FC’s worst excesses has been their manager, Kenny Dalglish (who you may well call to give evidence). He continued to publicly support Suarez even after Liverpool FC had decided not to appeal against the ban. Indeed, following Suarez’s return to playing he told an interviewer how pleased he was that Suarez was back, before adding: “…he should never have been out in the first place!” Is this the responsible behaviour of a manager at a high-profile club with a strong anti-racist stance?

(5) Throughout this series of PR and legal blunders a deafening silence came from the owners of the club. The first time anyone at board level spoke was after Suarez refused to shake Evra’s hand, following the Man Utd v Liverpool match on 11 February 2012, when it was felt that the club’s reputation had reached rock-bottom. It seems that criticism of the club had finally reached the other side of the Atlantic and the owners felt the need to take desperate measures to avert further damage to the club’s reputation.

(6) Before Suarez’s verdict was announced, the Brighton & Hove Albion FC manager, Gustavo Poyet, entered the debate. His was a particularly ill-informed contribution and it was totally inappropriate for him to comment while the matter was still being decided. He was widely reported as saying “I played football for seven years in Spain and was called everything because I was from South America. I never went out crying like a baby, like Patrice Evra, saying that someone said something to me.”

In an interview with TalkSport Radio (on 18 November 2011) he made the following assertions:

“I think it’s worse to charge someone because you trust one person when you have no proof......”

“You are not a racist when you go against one, but you are if you go against the whole world, not saying one word in one moment....”

“For me there is nothing at all...and we’re making things look bigger than they are...”

This was unacceptable behaviour from someone occupying a responsible position within football; I think he should be asked to explain his comments (and the timing of them) to the Culture Media and Sport Committee, for I believe that, he too, has brought football into disrepute.

(7) I will conclude by reiterating my belief that Liverpool FC has brought the game of football into disrepute. Their response to Suarez’s racist conduct was to seek to undermine Patrice Evra and the FA’s disciplinary processes, including accusing the FA of bias. At no time did the club or their player apologise to Patrice Evra for the racial abuse he suffered; neither did the club condemn Suarez’s racist actions and state what punishment they would impose ie in addition to the Independent Commission’s eight-match ban. The club only came to life after the handshake incident, which was a PR disaster for them. The feeling is that Liverpool FC does not take racism seriously, but only care about protecting the image of their star players at all costs. Both Suarez and the club have sustained huge damage to their reputations as a result of this episode; a sincere apology is necessary before we can even begin to talk about lessons being learned.

February 2012

1 on 20 December 2011 and 3 January 2012

Prepared 18th September 2012