PFA Deputy Chief Executive Bobby Barnes, who has become the first black man on a UEFA disciplinary panel, says professional football is in a “very significant period” when it comes to confronting racism.
As a player in the 1980s for West Ham United and various other clubs, Barnes frequently experienced racial abuse, including monkey chants and banana skins thrown at him.
Now as president of FIFPRO Europe and deputy chief executive of the English PFA, he expects to use his experience to help bring about change on the UEFA panel.
“In cases that directly relate to discrimination, it is important to have people there that have a practical experience with it,” Barnes said. “It is also important for a judicial body or panel to represent its constituency.”
“I have been a player, I have been an administrator, I have been at the end of receiving racist abuse myself, I have an understanding of how dehumanizing that can be. I should be able to bring a more subjective view of the effects the sanctions can have on players and fans.”
In 2018, UEFA ordered Bulgaria to play two matches without spectators and pay a 75,000 euro fine after fans racially abused England national team players. The sanction received a lot of criticism, especially as the match was already played in a partially closed stadium due to previous racist behaviour.
“That partial closure didn’t have any deterrent effect, it didn’t stop those who wanted to carry on with their racist abuse,” Barnes said. “One of my first questions will be to look at the guidelines for potential sanctions whether they are suitable and appropriate, or if we would need to refine them.”
“Clubs and football associations have a responsibility to provide a safe and discrimination-free working environment. If they have done all that they can, then you will be more sympathetic. But when they could and should have done more, then it is appropriate that a sanction reflects that.”
Barnes said he has been impressed by how players of all colour have united to combat racism following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
“Players have made a statement that this cannot continue into the next generation,” Barnes said. “It is very powerful that players of all colours, not only black players, have come together to make statements, to take the knee, to condemn racism and the lack of social inclusion."
“We are at a very significant period in not only football, but also in society,” said Barnes, a member of FIFPRO’s global board. “It is a bad indictment that I have been talking about racism in football for forty years and we are still talking about it now."
“We need to make some steps so that in another few years’ time we don’t have people saying the same thing.”
FIFPRO and the PFA met with players to discuss what action to take, Barnes said.
“They are fed up of campaigning, putting on a t-shirt, and then after they have taken the shirt off, everybody forgets about it for another year,” Barnes said. “The players are determined: they want something tangible. They want change.”
That change goes beyond the pitch, he added.
“Whilst there is no representation deficit on the field, there is a lack of managers, coaches, directors of football and administrators that come from a minority background. The game has to address that."
“When I am walking into a boardroom, I am tired of being the only black face in that room.”