Very sadly, the answer seemed to be ‘no’.
Racism has been a prominent issue in football over the past year. During the last domestic season Liverpool striker Luis Suarez received an 8-match ban for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra. The fallout was considerable and still rumbles on.
And of course this week saw former England captain John Terry on trial for allegedly using racial slurs towards QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
Given the timing and the content, it is a shame that this programme (although relatively well-advertised for a show on BBC3) was not broadcast on one of the main channels, especially considering that the pre-Euro 2012 edition of Panorama, titled ‘Stadiums of Hate’, was broadcast on BBC1 to substantial fanfare.
Clarke was an engaging, intelligent and considered presenter for this documentary and nobody can accuse him of not covering all the bases (he spoke to players, pundits, fans, administrators and celebrities) as he tried to uncover the truth behind racism in modern football.
As well as his playing duties, he also acts as Chairman of the Professional Footballers Association and an ambassador for the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign, the most high-profile campaign against racism in English football.
However, as was pointed out, its annual budget of £500k seems disproportionate to the £3.1 billion awarded to the Premier League last year.
His journey, if we can call it that (it’s hardly the X Factor after all), began with his own admission that he has never been the subject of racial abuse during his 16-year career and subsequently thought that the problem had been largely eradicated.
As the programme went on, we discovered how wrong this assumption was.
Clarke started out by speaking to his team-mates and fellow players, discovering that abuse (both from the terraces and the pitch itself) is still a problem and that, despite the public utterances, the authorities seem unable (or unwilling?) to take proper action to stamp it out.
Of course, it’s not just a British problem. Clarke travelled to Krakow to witness the local derby- one of the most hostile atmospheres in European football.
You feared for him as the intimidating environment really came across on screen. Both sets of fans levelled abuse at each other, with the home side largely resorting to anti-semitic chanting. When one of the black players from the away side touched the ball, he was subjected to loud, sustained ‘monkey’ noises.
But one of the key points that the programme highlighted was that racism isn’t always so obvious and is not just confined to the terraces.
Social media has enabled fans to get closer to figures within the game. As well as describing how he has been called every name under the sun, pundit and former player Stan Collymore showed Clarke some of the many Twitter comments received by Evra following the Suarez incident – all unspeakably vile.
It was a real shock, both for Clarke and for the audience as to the depths that people would sink to.
We also learnt that there have only been two players of Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi background that have made significant progress within the English professional game. Another of Clarke’s trips was to Luton, where he spoke with teenagers and coaches from these backgrounds and discovered the barriers they face.
He found that there were people employed with a brief to exclude Asian youngsters, despite the fact that a number are highly-skilled players in comparison to their Caucasian teammates. One such player was captain of his county team and had scored 84 goals in a single season, yet the professional clubs weren’t interested in him.
Other issues raised (by Ava Vidal) included the way African teams are regularly described as ‘naive’: big and strong, but yet unable to follow tactical instruction. It’s yet another example of the way racism has become embedded in the game.
However, the biggest emotional impact in the programme came when Clarke spoke to his own father.
Clarke Snr. was an aspiring footballer himself, but only made the semi-professional ranks having suffered violence and abuse from opponents on the field, whilst referees and authorities did nothing about it.
With nobody to speak to, he kept it all in and never took a young Clarke to a match, for fear of exposing him to any of the abuse he had suffered and witnessed.
Watching him come close to tears when recalling how his experiences made him fall out of love with the game was a real ‘lump-in-the-throat’ moment.
There was no way the solution to the problem was going to be found in 60 minutes, but Is Football Racist? did hammer home the problems that are sadly still prevalent in the game.
Here’s hoping that this will be the start of a genuine effort by everyone involved in football (fans, players, coaches and the authorities) to really make a difference by speaking up about racism and taking proper measures to stamp it out.
They could start by making this documentary compulsory viewing.