Former England winger John Barnes believes education trumps punishment as the best means to combat racism in football.
Barnes scored the memorable opening goal of a 2-0 England victory over Brazil at the Maracana Stadium in 1984 and his fine finish at the end of a twisting run in Rio de Janeiro, where the modern England side faced the Selecao last night, is the clear footballing reference point for the historic win.
But speaking to BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek programme this morning, Barnes recalled the hostile racist treatment he later received from National Front supporters on England’s flight to Chile on the same South American tour.
Fifa has this week approved a series of anti-racism measures – including minimum five-game bans for individuals found guilty of racist offences – designed to combat a worrying resurgence of discriminatory behaviour in the modern game. But Barnes believes education at grassroots level is the best tactic.
He said: “The most important thing for me is to change the perception. You can give a black man a job or put women on the board of FIFA, a lot has changed, but you need to change the mindset of people.
“It’s through education. You can ban whoever you want but you’re not going to change a thing.
“You’re not going to change a thing until you change people’s perception of other people and other groups. Women, black people and minorities. There’s still a perception that women or black men are unable to [do a job].
“We have to use society to change football, it cannot be the other way round because football is just a small part of society.
“That would be saying that as long as you keep your mouth shut in football stadiums, you can go out into society and say whatever you want.”
Football Federation Australia board member Moya Dodd became one of three women to join Fifa’s executive committee on Friday and she supported Barnes’ position.
“Football is a fantastic platform,” she told Sportsweek. “It’s the world’s most popular game and gives us a position and ability to call things out.
“Using football as a platform to help society is ultimately one of the big purposes of the game and my motivation for being involved at this level.
“As for the penalties themselves, you can argue ‘Is five games enough or is 10 games enough?’, but they’re really secondary.
“The bigger point is that we have an opportunity as governors of this game to call out some of the behaviour that occurs.
“Racism is one [problem] and I’m very pleased to see FIFA is taking a strong stance on it and I hope the member associations follow through. Ultimately, banning people for games isn’t going to change their minds but, if we talk about why it’s so harmful and hurtful, then that’s a big part of changing attitudes.”