Glen Kamara: Will UEFA Stand Up Against Racism?

by | Mar 26, 2021

Among the million-and-one things more competitive than this season’s Scottish Premiership (SPS) title race, we now have the race to avoid being the last team to stop “taking the knee” before games. And the catalyst for this has been the racist abuse directed at Rangers’ midfielder Glen Kamara during his side’s Europa League home defeat to Slavia Prague on 18th March.

Every aspect of this story is depressingly familiar. The abuse thrown at Kamara, the reaction of some of the louder parts of Glasgow football. And the muddled response of those no longer kneeling for five seconds before each SPS game.

It seems, no, IS beyond reasonable doubt that Kamara was racially abused by Slavia’s Ondrej Kudela. Kamara’s and his team-mates’ fury and Kudela’s laughable defence point straight to this. Crucially, too, Kudela made his words as impossible to see as it is to see how due process can reach any other conclusion (Uefa’s initial announcement focused on a post-match “incident in the tunnel” involving “some players of both teams.” But this clearly and directly stemmed from Kudela’s abuse of Kamara).

Slavia say Kudela does this “when he talks to his teammates during our games.” But this is invariably done to prevent their words being caught on (TV) camera. Why was Kudela so coy about calling Kamara a “fcuking guy,” the nonsensical phrase he claims he used, rather than a “fcuking monkey,” the phrase heard by everyone else in earshot? There is also a stench of “whataboutery” from Slavia’s claims of a post-match assault on Kudela. Due process must also apply here, which may include the awkward question, for Kudela and Slavia, of what might have provoked such an assault.

Alas, calls for due process, from BBC Scotland pundit Michael Stewart, inspired a ‘strong’ reaction from some who should know better and from others who frequently reveal that they don’t. On the BBC’s Scottish Football Podcast last Friday, and on BBC Radio’s Sportsound show last Saturday, Stewart referenced the analogous case of Ross County’s Michael Gardyne, accused of homophobically abusing Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos in December. Rangers’ Connor Goldson reacted angrily to that incident. But an SFA charge against Gardyne was dropped, reportedly because “no witnesses were prepared to speak” at a planned virtual disciplinary hearing in January.

This made Stewart “slightly uncomfortable and uneasy proceeding” in Kamara’s case “when one side is saying it didn’t happen and the other side is adamant that it did happen” and “concluding before we know what conclusion Uefa have come to.” But he acknowledged “the difficulty” this might cause: “When it’s like that, how do we form a definitive answer as to what’s going on?”

And, frankly, his reading of the then-available evidence was spot-on. His “instinct” was that Kudela had racially abused Kamara. And “because there’s thought gone into whatever (Kudela) has done…there needs to be a punishment that actually gets people to stop and think about their actions, whether he’s suspended or whether the club are suspended from European competition next year.”

Ex-England centre-back Rio Ferdinand had a “definitive” answer, although it suggested that he’d either not heard, or had completely misunderstood, every word Stewart had said. “Educate yourself,” he tweeted, claiming that Stewart’s calls for due process “are why people suffer in silence and are afraid to speak out.” His solution? Unclarified.

Of course, the solution IS due process. But it is time for due process to draw the same, inescapable, conclusions drawn by all credible, disinterested observers. Including Stewart, and fellow Sportsound pundit Richard Forster, who, in debate, though not in huge disagreement, with Stewart, raised the key question: “What could possibly have been said to cause that level of outrage?” And he had an answer: “(Kudela) covers his mouth so he can’t be lip-read. But you can lip read what Glen Kamara says right after it. He says ‘that’s effing racism, he’s being racist’.”

The part-consensus between Forster and Stewart made the singling out of Stewart by certain parties so dismal, if predictable. The “Rangers News” website said it was “an embarrassment to the national broadcaster to continue with this shill. The BBC should be ashamed of giving the pundit a platform to come off with this rubbish regarding Kamara.” And it reproduced a queue of tweets calling Stewart, inter alia, a “deplorable” and “failed” human being and accusing him of “basically saying Kamara is a liar.”

Meanwhile, Rangers supporters group, Club 1872, used their trademark sense of perspective to claim that “BBC Scotland’s continuing tolerance of him is further evidence of (its) institutional decline. This latest outburst should be his last.” Yawn.

Back on Planet Earth, a number of Scottish clubs refused to “take a knee” before their Premiership games last weekend, in favour of literally taking a stand. Clearly cribbed from the script used by English clubs and players, a Motherwell players’ statement read: “When we started taking the knee at the start of the season, it had an impact. For the first few weeks, the message was loud and clear. Now it has been lost. Taking a knee has become something someone does now for the sake of it. It has completely lost its meaning.”

But, like their English counterparts, their statement failed to clarify what “impact” had been made, and lost, and what impact they expected from an awareness-raising gesture taken in isolation. And, in fairness, Motherwell players taking a knee was never going to have the impact of English Premier League players doing so on global media outlets (which could be said of all SPS clubs, loath though Celtic and Rangers advocates might be to admit it). So, the key part of their statement followed:

Instead, we want those in power to take real and immediate action on racism. Apathy and complacency have set into the routine. We want our actions to cause a realisation and a reaction. Racism is apparent everywhere in the day-to-day life of society. People need to realise change is required. Players, clubs, authorities and society now need to unite, and fight for a level playing field for all.

How Motherwell players plan to FORCE “those in power to take real and immediate action” remains to be seen and I believe it will “remain to be seen” for some time to come. I would be delighted if this cynicism is wildly misplaced. But all they did on Saturday was change gesture, without explaining why standing was a less “empty” one than kneeling, or how it might prove more impactful. It certainly hasn’t forced any “immediate” action. So, the early signs suggest that the Motherwell players’ words could prove “empty” too.

Dundee United tweet-explained their players’ ‘stance’ minutes after it was taken: “We stand today with Glen Kamara, and others who suffer at the hands of racism. Today’s decision to stand rather than take the knee is a show of solidarity by our players to enhance the message that racism in any form is unacceptable and has no place anywhere in society.” This suggested a one-off, specifically (and admirably) in support of Kamara. And it acknowledged the “enhance-the-message” purpose of any pre-match gesture.

Celtic and Rangers were also on their feet rather than on their knees immediately before last Sunday’s Glasgow derby at Celtic Park, with Kamara among them. Rangers manager Steven Gerrard told match broadcasters Sky Sports that his “two captains” had informed him that they wouldn’t be kneeling, but he didn’t explain their specific reasoning. And far and away the most impactful gesture came from Celtic skipper Scott Brown, who embraced Kamara during the teams’ on-field pre-match warm-up.

However, in the overall scheme of things, pre-SPS-match anti-racism gestures is as big an issue as how many angels you can fit on the head of a pin. The treatment of the racist abuse directed at Kamara is now the key issue. And it is time for Uefa to address the key issues arising from it. Time for them to “say what you see.” To avoid getting mired in the superfluous legal technicalities which deny justice. To deliver the deterrent punishment for which Stewart called.

As Kamara himself said: “The vile racist abuse by Ondrej Kudela took place on the international stage and any failure to act by Uefa will be viewed as a green light for racism.” It is time, therefore, for Uefa, through their due processes, to “take a stand” against racism in the game they govern.