Hibs boss Jack Ross opens up on tackling racism and how society can be better educated

Little that has happened since that vile moment Ondrej Kudela bent his head towards Glen Kamara’s ear and allegedly articulated his racist trope has surprised Hibs manager Jack Ross.

Not the hurt and anger so evident on the Rangers player’s face and those of his team-mates, not the out-pouring of support from the wider game and society, not the doubts that those in charge will have the courage or the decency to respond appropriately and certainly not the pained expression and emotive aftermatch comments from Ibrox manager Steven Gerrard.

“When you build relationships with players and you go through as much as do with them you’re naturally very protective towards them. I think that’s what Steven was feeling,” said Ross, who has been a long-time advocate of the Show Racism the Red Card movement.

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“Irrespective of the severity of the incident, and it was quite a severe one, you always feel like that.”

Hibs Paul Hanlon and Joe Newell take the knee as part of the ongoing battle against racism. Photo by Craig Foy / SNS GroupHibs Paul Hanlon and Joe Newell take the knee as part of the ongoing battle against racism. Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group
Hibs Paul Hanlon and Joe Newell take the knee as part of the ongoing battle against racism. Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group

But the noxious nature of the exchange made it all the more heart-rending and, having supported the UK’s largest anti-racism educational charity, as a player and a manager, it served to remind him how much change is still required. The response since has reminded him that inroads have already been made.

In sport participants have been using their platform to raise awareness, with clubs ‘taking a knee’ or ‘making a stand’ before matches this season. Many have spoken out about the on-going issues, others have reassessed their own ignorance or indifference, and on Sunday, ahead of the often caustic Celtic v Rangers clash, Celtic captain Scott Brown walked into Rangers’ half during the warm-up to, very publicly empathise and offer support to Kamara.

His gesture showed that decency can and should transcend football rivalries.

“It didn’t surprise me because there are far, far, far, more people who behave properly in football, by a significant distance, than those who don’t,” asserted Ross. “Like in all aspects of life, the lowest common dominator is the one that usually gets the most attention. They are the ones who usually determine the punishments or rules that are put in place.

“It’s a trite comparison but not being allowed to take a bottle into a football match. That’s because the lowest common denominator might throw it at somebody, while my mum still goes to matches and she might just be thirsty! But, the rules are there to protect us from the lowest common denominator.

“But, to see Scott doing that didn’t surprise me, because Scott is a good guy, but it wouldn’t have surprised me if any one of the vast majority of footballers had done that. The vast majority of people in the game understand how to conduct themselves properly.”

A team sport, where camaraderie, unity and a sense of belonging matter to the people in the dressing room and technical area, as well as those in the stands, the sport has, sadly, provided its share of racist villains and victims but it has also played a massive role in bridging divides and educating and ending ignorance. But the fight goes on.

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“I think it’s difficult,” said Ross. “I think we’ve become far better educated as a society. I’ve spoken previously I’ve been a long-term supporter of Show Racism The Red Card in Scotland, both as a player and then post-playing career, and I continue to do that and I think that’s what we need to continue to do, to educate.

“The truth is there will always be individuals, and more often than not it is individuals and it’s isolated incidents that bring this to the fore again and until the time when, I suppose, those individual behaviours are eradicated we won’t have done it properly.

“But I do think there has been significant improvement, from what I’ve seen, within society.

“I was speaking on a call with [club captain] Dave Gray with one of the local high schools for a Show Racism The Red Card event and I was speaking about the use of casual language that not so long ago would have been acceptable within work environments or football changing rooms. That has dramatically changed as has our understanding of even other people’s cultures and religions.

“For instance, Dave mentioned he has had to learn about Ofir Marciano’s religion and I’ve had to learn about players who take different holidays and celebrate different religious festivals or need time off. I’ve had players who are Muslim and they’ve gone through Ramadan. So, I’ve learned a lot more generally and I think people in society could be better educated.

“It’s just ensuring it’s the collective, rather than those individuals who are the exception rather than the rule, who come out on top.”

As a dad to two young girls, he says he has a vital role to play. As, he believes, do others. And while wearing Show Racism the Red Card T-shirts and making a stand or taking a knee are all worthwhile initiatives in raising awareness, if people raise good children, who are educated, informed and caring, in the long-term, that will be the surest way to eradicate it.

“These gestures are important but not the most important thing, the most important thing is how we all behave and how we choose to influence the behaviour of others.

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“I look at how I conduct myself and how I’m raising my children. That is something I can influence directly. And, we would all love to be able to influence other people as well through our actions and in educating them.

“But, like any society, you can campaign and cajole and lobby, but those in positions in governments are the ones who can really affect the change.

“In football, it’s ultimately the lawmakers and governing bodies who are the ones who can affect things. We can deliberate it and take a knee or take a stand, etc, but those are the people who have the power to punish, if you like.”

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