Ethos Education

Racism in Football 2011: What is Christianity’s response to racism?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Awareness of the consequences of prejudice and discrimination.
  • Recognition of the UK as a multi-ethnic society.
  • Understanding of Christian teaching that promotes racial harmony.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon a word association game.
  • Discuss a variety of news stories concerning footballers being accused of racially abusing opponents.
  • Reflect on comments by public figures on racism debates.
  • Analyse comments by the Archbishop of York and the teaching of Jesus from the Bible to determine a Christian perspective of racial prejudice and discrimination.
  • Consider less obvious expressions of racial prejudice in society today.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a series of Tweets about one or more instances of alleged racist abuse.


Ask the students to play a word association game. Ask for a volunteer to say the first word that comes into their head when you say a series of words to them. You could either use a single volunteer or work your way around the room with each student (not necessarily the whole class) responding to just one word from the following list:

  • School
  • Weekend
  • Abuse
  • Language
  • Doctor
  • Insult
  • Sport
  • White
  • Black

Explain that in today’s lesson you are going to be thinking about the issue of racism and in particular looking at Christianity’s response to it.


Ask the students what stories come to mind when the words football and racism are combined? There is a good chance that they will refer to one or more of the following stories: John Terry being accused of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand during a Premier League match; Luis Suarez being accused of racially abusing Patrice Evra during a Premier League match; FIFA President Sepp Blatter dismissively claiming that football doesn’t have a problem with racism and saying that nothing happens on the field that can’t be resolved with a handshake at the end of the match.

You could give out one or more of the following news reports on the above stories: (John Terry to face police investigation). (Suarez to be charged by the Football Association) (Blatter says sorry for racism remarks)

Allow a few minutes for the students to discuss the stories. Make sure to emphasise that in the cases of Terry and Suarez they have been accused of racially abusing opponents, they have not (at the time of this lesson being originally published in 2011) been found guilty of anything. Here are some potential lines of discussion:

  • Should John Terry have been selected as England captain while this accusation was hanging over him? Does this send a message of condoning alleged racist abuse, or should the principle of innocent until proven guilty apply in this case?
  • If Suarez did use racially insulting language, would it make any difference that he only used words that Evra’s own team mates also use towards him? What difference does context make to the words we use towards people of different racial groups?
  • Is Sepp Blatter’s offense of dismissing racism and – as his critics see it – implicitly condoning it a lesser or greater offense than those that Terry and Suarez are accused of?

The Blatter situation has, in particular, prompted a wave of criticism. England internationals Rio Ferdinand (elder brother of Anton, the player Terry is accused of abusing) and David Beckham are among those who have registered their disapproval of Blatter via their Twitter accounts.

 ‘Your comments on racism are so condescending it’s almost laughable. If fans shout racist chants but shake our hands is that OK? …I feel stupid for thinking that football was taking a leading role against racism – it seems it was just on mute for a while.’

(Rio Ferdinand)

‘I think the comments were appalling. A lot of people have said that. I don’t think the comments were very good for this game. [Racism] can’t be swept under the carpet and it can’t be sorted out with just a handshake.’

(David Beckham)

By contrast, Blatter has pointed to the many initiatives against racism that he has personally supported in his time with FIFA (the governing body of world football).

Ask the students whether they think there is a distinction to be drawn between the way that people of different racial groups are treated and the words that individuals use when talking about people of different racial groups. What is the relationship between these two reflections of racism?

Ask the students how they would expect a Christian to respond to the football and racism stories. What would they expect a specifically Christian perspective on racism to be like?

Give out copies of the following article, where Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York added his contribution to a media debate about racism in 2007, after Jade Goody was made to leave the Celebrity Big Brother house after making comments that were deemed to be racially abusive.

Read through the article with the students and ask them what Archbishop Sentamu suggests is the root of prejudice, and therefore the reason for racist attitudes. Draw their attention to his reference to Martin Luther King’s remarks that ‘ignorance is the root of all prejudice’.

While it is true that opposing racism is not unique to Christians, both Archbishop Sentamu and Martin Luther King were motivated by the values and principles they derived from their Christian faith.

Explain that Jesus lived in a culture where racial prejudice was commonplace. Jesus challenged people to reject prejudice and to show love to others regardless of their race or religion. If you want to give some examples, you could refer to passages such as Mark 12:28-34 (Jesus tells his followers to love their neighbour) and Luke 10:25-37 (the parable of the Good Samaritan). Ask the students to read through either or both of these passages and to write brief notes suggesting how a Christian might interpret them to support the views expressed by Archbishop Sentamu.

Ask the students to think of ways in which racial prejudice affects some people in the United Kingdom. Encourage them to think widely, and to identify subtle effects of prejudice as well as the more obvious ones. By way of an example, you could point out that some black footballers have claimed that they do not get the same opportunities to forge careers in football management as their white counterparts. As the students identify examples of racial prejudice, write them up on the board. During the discussion, ask the students what ordinary people like them can do to oppose these examples of prejudice.


Ask the students to write a series of Twitter responses (remember, each separate Tweet should be no more than 140 characters, including blank spaces between words) to one or more of the footballing racism stories. The Tweets should be written to illustrate a Christian perspective on racism, and can include personal opinion (not necessarily that of the student), Bible references and editorial comment on the topical events. Students can decide whether to write a series of Tweets from one character, or to include an exchange of Tweets between multiple characters. If they opt for the latter, they should ensure that at least one character represents a specifically Christian perspective on racism.


  • Copies of articles about various football and racism stories
  • Bibles

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