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New Labour, racism and ‘new' football in England

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Bradbury and Williams begin by examining aspects of the genealogy of incidents of fan racism at the Spain v. England international football match in Madrid on 17 November 2004, and the public outcry in Britain that followed. They raise questions about the possible ‘strategic mobilization' by Spanish fans of apparently racist epithets as a response to the use, by the English football authorities before the match, of prominent anti-racism symbolism. The main body of the article then considers the British public response to Madrid within the context of the Blairite New Labour policy on football racism in England from the late 1990s. It argues that Labour's Football Task Force from 1997 constituted an entirely new direction for sport and government policy in Britain. However, by drawing on the comments of some of the key figures involved, Bradbury and Williams further contend that, both structurally and ideologically, the Task Force was preset to limit its own investigations on the nature and effects of racism, specifically in the English game. Although the Task Force's report, Eliminating Racism in Football , has had some positive effects—for example, on Football Association policy or in stimulating local anti-racist initiatives—its narrow focus and its relatively underdeveloped understanding of the racism problem in professional sport led its members to de-emphasize the significance of forms of institutionalized racism within English football. Research and commentaries on racism in the English game since that report was published in 1998 suggest that problems of racialized exclusion in football remain. Bradbury and Williams conclude that the public outrage in Britain about the incidents in Madrid reflect an over-concentration on silencing public expressions of racism—combating overt, collective fan outbreaks—at the expense of addressing the racialized structures of power that continue to shape access, opportunities and acceptance of ethnic minorities within professional football in England.

Keywords: English football; Football Task Force; New Labour; Third Way; fan racism; governance; institutional racism; normative whiteness; racism

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2006-02-01

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