Pick Your Racism

How can Israeli coach Avram Grant defend a soccer star accused of insulting a black player? Two possible reasons come to mind.

LONDON - The most famous Israeli football manager in the world has proved again why Israel's sport culture is screwy.

The decision of the Football Association's disciplinary committee last week, that the captain of England's national football team and of European champions Chelsea, John Terry, was guilty of hurling a racial slur against Queen Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand didn't end the 11-month saga: Terry is appealing. England remains split into the Terry camp, which insists he was falsely accused, and those who see the 4-match ban and 220,000-pound fine (less than the footballer makes in two weeks) as a slap in the face to the campaign against racism on the pitch.

Terry is one of the most influential players in the English game. His defense team was joined by former managers, including Avram Grant, the Israeli who ran Chelsea for nine years.

Grant's intervention may seem benign: he's a character witness for Terry in the courtroom of the media. But it's interesting to compare what he said with his predecessor at Chelsea, Jose Mourinho.

"He is not a racist, that's 100 per cent," Mourinho told CNN, citing Terry's good relations with African players on the team. He did however support the disciplinary committee, saying, "Probably, he [Terry] had a racist comment or a 'racist' attitude against an opponent and, sometimes in football, we look to our opponents in the wrong way. But to pay, he has to be punished."

Grant also sought to expunge the racist stain from Terry's image, telling the BBC that "nobody thinks John Terry is a racist." But unlike Mourinho, Grant cast doubt on the necessity of a disciplinary procedure. "The FA needs to leave it," he said. "I think the message was clear and I don't think they need to charge him. For the FA, the more important thing is the message that it will not have racism in sport."

Both managers may be right: maybe John Terry is not a racist. It was just the heat of the match that made him call a dark-skinned player "fucking black cunt." Who knows, maybe Grant even believes Terry's lame excuse, delivered after he realized he had been caught out by a camera, that he was only repeating, and denying, an accusation by Ferdinand.

Take the coach out of Petah Tikva

It isn't clear though how Grant thinks a message on racism in sport can be broadcast without investigating and holding hearings for players suspected of racial abuse. It is even less clear when you take into account the fact that Grant himself was the target of anti-Semitic racism during his short period at Chelsea and during his transformation into one of the most prominent spokespeople in Britain for the remembrance of the Holocaust.

At the semi-finals of the 2008 Champions League, which took place on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Grant wore a distinctive black arm-band with a little yellow star, before flying off to the "March of the Living" in Poland. Earlier this year, despite not holding any official position in English football, he accompanied the English national team when it visited Auschwitz before the start of the Euro 2012 tournament.

Two possible reasons come to mind for Grant's lenient attitude towards the captain's behavior. First might be his desperate wish to manage another team in England and the consideration that good relations with the Terry lobby could help him achieve this aspiration. The second is that like many other Israelis, and despite his years in England, Grant is evidently sensitive only to one very specific kind of racism, the certain kind of racism inherent in anti-Semitism, which somewhat cheapens his work for Holocaust remembrance. But then, he grew up on our sweaty pitches feverish with incitement.

It seems that you can take the coach out of Petah Tikva, but there is no hope of taking out of him the ulterior motives and indifference to hatred in sport.