Sir Alex Ferguson has made a habit of stirring up controversy over 38 years of management, but yet the Manchester United manager's stance on Rio Ferdinand's decision to not wear a Kick It Out t-shirt in support of the anti-discriminatory campaigners ranks among his more contentious moves.
Amid the bans handed out to Liverpool's Luis Suarez and former England captain John Terry for racial abuse in the last 12 months, the campaign came under criticism from Reading striker Jason Roberts in the lead up to the weekend's Premier League fixtures, who said he had been "let down" by the response to recent incidents of prejudice.
The 34 year old's main concern, which led to him not wearing a Kick It Out t-shirt prior to warming up at Anfield on Saturday, surrounds the lack of jurisdiction the campaign possesses and said he would continue his position until significant changes were made.
While Roberts is correct to accuse Kick it Out of having little influence in removing discrimination from the game, his complaints expose the limits of the organisation rather than their negligence. The Football Association simply refer to the campaign as their 'anti-discriminatory partners', a dismissive title which is indicative of the limited funding they receive from the game's three main bodies; The FA, the Premier League and the Professional Footballers' Association.
But before Kick it Out can lobby for an increase in funding and an improved policy making position, they require the backing from the sport's ambassadors to help raise awareness, not least to help tackle discrimination in the first place. The frustrations of Roberts and Ferdinand are understandable, but misguided. The protest should be against those who dictate their importance and funding, rather than the body who don't have the remit to impose alterations.
Whether you fundamentally disagree or not with the stance of Roberts, Ferdinand and the raft of Premier League players who refused to support the campaign, they are all entitled to their view. Roberts made his position perfectly clear on Friday afternoon, making public his discontent and decision to not wearing a t-shirt at Anfield the next day.
The response of his manager Brian McDermott after the game was therefore understandable, with The Royals boss considered and supporting of his view having spoken with his striker the previous day.
A different situation arose for Ferguson however. During his weekly pre-match press conference not only did he condemn Roberts' decision not to wear a t-shirt, but he assured the nation's media that his players would be baring the slogan come the warm-up prior to the home game with Stoke City.
So when faced with questions of Ferdinand's snub of the campaign; surprise, disappointment and embarrassment was always likely to accompany Ferguson's response. Given the assurances he made a mere 24 hours previous to the post-match response, surely motivated by Ferdinand's own declaration he would wear a t-shirt, coupled with his disapproval of Roberts' stance, Ferguson's was completely entitled to criticise the 33 year old.
In the same way that Ferdinand is free to reject the campaign, Ferguson, who feels the defender has let him down and damaged the body, is permitted to disagree. The United boss clearly shares the view that Kick it Out requires strength in numbers before significant changes can be made.
Where Ferguson crosses the line is his intension to take disciplinary action against Ferdinand, a position which smacks of a personal tirade, rather than a stance against not supporting the campaign. An aspect of his disappointment lies in the feeling he has been undermined by Ferdinand, and made to look foolish in the press. It appears clear his motivation to fine the England international regards retaining his pride and power at Old Trafford.
Granted, the Scot is liable to feel aggrieved, but he is on the verge of outdoing his own discrimination stance by fining a player for not replicating his own view. Ferdinand shouldn't be castigated for not echoing his managers' sentiments; if anything it should send alarm bells ringing in The FA's offices at Wembley Stadium.
On a weekend which aimed to spark awareness of discrimination in football, the likes of Roberts and Ferdinand have worked to put the spotlight on the game's decision makers. Their own personal campaign could be the most significant breakthrough in that ongoing fight.
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