Q: How should we deal with racism in sport? A: Learn from the NBA

Q: So what’s all the fuss about with the National Basketball Association and this guy Don Sterling?
A: Sterling is the owner of the NBA club Los Angeles Clippers. He has a supermodel girlfriend (pictured with him above), who apparently invited African American friends to games. Sterling, it seems, told her not to bring them. The league got to hear about this and took a very dim view.
Q: I guess the NBA punished him, eh?
A: And how! The league hit him with a $2.5 million (about £1.5m) fine and banned him for life. So he can’t go near his own club now. The NBA also says he must sell the Clippers.
Q: What’s the club worth?
A: $575 million, according to Forbes magazine.
Q: Wow! Can the NBA actually force him to sell?
A: This remains to be seen. Remember: this is the land of the free and home of the brave and private property is at the heart of the American ethos. Sterling’s lawyers will be preparing to challenge the NBA’s decision. He can afford the fine, but he’ll almost certainly want to keep his club. There is bound to be a long legal struggle ahead.
Q: Does the punishment fit the crime?
A: It’s certainly an extremely harsh punishment, unparalleled in sport history. His comments are not directly abusive, but they are racist by inference. Compared to some of the incidents we’ve seen in football, they are relatively mild. Don’t get me wrong: you can extrapolate the racism from his remarks, but in Europe players and fans openly mouth racist language and use Twitter to convey racist epithets. The nearest case to this one was in 2007 when Spain’s head coach Luis Aragonés was caught on camera referring to the then Arsenal striker Thierry Henry as “that black shit.”
Q: And how did Uefa, football’s European governing organization, react?
A: A £2,000 fine, which Aragonés later successfully appealed.
Q: But that was seven years ago. Uefa and football’s world governing federation Fifa are tougher on racism now, right?
A: Last October, Uefa ordered the partial closure of CSKA Moscow’s stadium for one game following racist chanting directed at Manchester City’s Yaya Toure. Only last week, Uefa said it wasn’t able to take action against a fan who threw a banana at Barcelona player Dani Alves because it was up to the Spanish federation to act.
Q: This sounds almost unbelievably soft in comparison with the NBA approach.
A: It is. You have to remember: nearly 77% of the National Basketball Association’s players are African American. The league is embarrassed because only one club has an African American owner.
Q: That would be Michael Jordan, owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, right?
A: Correct. Nearly half the coaches in the league are black, but the NBA would like more ownership profile to look a bit more like the player profile. You also have to think that a lot of basketball fans are black. So the NBA is understandably sensitive about any hint of racism, especially at the top.
Q: Finally, do you think football has anything to learn from this?

A: Racism has been in football since the late 1970s and the sport has never successfully managed to rid itself of what has become its most bedevilling problem. No other sport has struggled with racism in the same way as the so-called beautiful game — which is the most multicultural sport in history, of course. The NBA’s approach seems to be this: stamp down hard on the first evidence of racism in the most dramatic, emphatic way it legally can, and this will send out a clear message. Football has been lily-livered and the message it’s been sending out is: “racism is unpleasant, but we have other priorities; so we’ll dole out minor fines or close parts of stadiums and hope this will suffice.” It won’t. I’m not saying it should take clubs away from owners, but a fine of £1.5m for a first offence and perhaps suspension from European competition for a few years might have the required effect.