I’m afraid other commitments meant I missed out on last weekend’s Major League action. I was in London for the biennial hall of fame ceremony of the charity Show Racism The Red Card, which we were fortunate to stage at 10 Downing Street in the presence of the prime minister.http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/sport/2008/05/15/how_footballers_helped_show_ra.htmlThe role that sport and sportsmen can play in tackling racism cannot be overstated, and as honorary president of the foundation I would like to express my gratitude to those who came and made Monday such a special occasion. Gordon Brown (who seemed quite shy, although his football knowledge was ok) hosted 170 footballers, managers, basketballers, rugby players, and other celebrities and dignities. Chelsea’s manager Avram Grant found time to be there despite this being the biggest week of his professional life. The Reading chairman John Madejski was there even though his club had been relegated the previous day and he was on crutches because he broke his ankle a few weeks ago.To have such public figures making the effort to be present shows how far we’ve come in the last 12 years. The foundation started in 1996, the year after I answered a call from Ged Grebby, of Youth Against Racism In Europe. I was at Newcastle at the time and he wrote to every player outlining his hopes and aims. I was the only one who wrote back, enclosing a £50 cheque to offer my support. They contacted me and I visited schools in the north-east, trying to get the anti-racism message across.Before long other players began to show an interest, with Warren Barton, Les Ferdinand and John Beresford particularly active and helpful. Magazines, CD-roms and other publicity material were produced, and we started to branch away from schools in the Newcastle area to elsewhere. Before long the campaign blossomed and the Scottish and Welsh parliaments became involved, to the extent that every library and school in Scotland and Wales, and a large number in England, is now part of the campaign.Us footballers could never have believed we would have such an impact, but it makes you realise just how big a role model you are considered to be. Indeed, I don’t think I’m being big-headed when I say Ged was very wise to involve us. While the people who are targeted by the campaign inside football stadia are only a small cross-section of society, by extension it branches out into the wider community, and children do listen to us. For the players it was a case of giving something back to the local community that gave so much to us. We can’t expect the government to solve everything that is wrong in society. If we’re part of the problem, we’re part of the solution.Also in my mind when I agreed to help was the memory of the abuse black footballers used to suffer in England, which I would see on TV back home in Trinidad when I was growing up. Many had to endure very distasteful incidents, but their resilience shone through and without that I wouldn’t have been able to ply my trade. John Barnes, Chris Kamara, Gary Bennett, Viv Anderson, Garth Crooks and many more before and after – we all owe them a debt that we can never repay, and it is a testament to their fortitude that the Premier League is now almost racism-free.Of course, we could never imagine our early work would lead to over 1,000 patrons, chapters in eight different European countries and ceremonies being hosted at the prime minister’s residence. But there is still so much more to be done, as has been highlighted this week by the appearance in the Uefa Cup final of Zenit St Petersburg, whose fans are notorious for racism. Islamaphobia has been much more prominent since the September 11 attacks, and anti-Semitism has raised its ugly head again. So we must never think we have cured the problem.In the UK we rely on the fact that footballers are so well recognised, but just because soccer players lack the same notoriety in North America does not mean they can’t get involved. Jason de Vos, for example, is one of our patrons. He is setting up a campaign now that he has returned to Canada, and that is being part-funded by FifPro. Many athletes across sport in the US are involved in the community where they grew up or where they play – some build houses for disadvantaged families, while one NFL player underwrote loans for single mothers to buy houses.The MLS seems unimportant in contrast to all this, but it is worth noting that Columbus has the best record after a five-game winning streak. Indeed, the whole league has something of a lop-sided feel. Traditionally the teams in the Western Conference have been stronger than those in the East, but that’s certainly not the case this season – indeed, Kansas City, who are second bottom in the East, would actually be top of the West were they in that region. This has me greatly confused. Is it just a quirk, or a significant trend for the rest of the season?
Shaka Hislop on Show Racism the Red Card
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