Prime Minister David Cameron signalled the involvement of the British government in the racism row in English football by calling a summit to discuss the issue as apologies began to be made in the Suarez incident.
According to several reports in the British press, Cameron and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt are to hold a “round table discussion” at Downing Street with football officials and players' representatives later this month.
Cameron's intervention comes following high-profile incidents involving leading footballers. Controversy was stirred on Saturday (11 February) when Liverpool striker Luis Suarez refused to shake hands with Manchester United's Patrice Evra before their clubs' met at Old Trafford.
Suarez has only recently returned for Liverpool after serving an eight-match ban for racially abusing Evra during a game in October.
Fall-out affects England manager
Meanwhile Chelsea's John Terry has been stripped of the England captaincy whilst he awaits a criminal trial on charges of racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand. The fall- out from the situation led to the resignation last week of England manager Fabio Capello after he appeared to publicly disagree with the FA’s decision. John Terry contests the charges.
Suarez later apologised to Evra for refusing to shake hands but the Uruguay forward was still subjected to a strong dressing down from his club as Liverpool finally tried to bring an end to the row on Sunday.
United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had branded Suarez a disgrace, while players’ union head Gordon Taylor called the Liverpool star's actions “disrespectful, inappropriate and embarrassing”.
Suarez issued a statement on Sunday, “I have spoken with the manager (Kenny Dalglish) since the game at Old Trafford and I realise I got things wrong,” he said on Liverpool's official website.
“I've not only let him down, but also the club and what it stands for and I'm sorry. I made a mistake and I regret what happened. I should have shaken Patrice Evra's hand before the game and I want to apologise for my actions.”
Liverpool managing director Ian Ayre had led the criticism of Suarez, followed by Kenny Dalglish who apologised for his own actions during a post- match interview in which he had deflected criticism of his striker. There has been speculation that the apologies came after an intervention was made by the owners of Liverpool FC, the US-based Fenway Sports, who also own the Boston Red Sox baseball team, and shirt sponsors Standard Chartered Bank who have paid €95.5 million as part of a three year deal.
Dalglish has himself been the subject of criticism with his continued support of Suarez. He has led club and supporter calls that disputed the player's guilt despite an independent FA tribunal report that set out its detailed findings in a 115 page public report. He has alo questioned Patrice Evra’s credibility. After the FA’s findings the players and manager warmed up pre-game in T-shirts supporting their colleague.
Suarez's latest actions came after an ongoing saga of three months which has shed a light on the issue of racial abuse between players and led to leading black players expressing their private dissatisfaction at the way in which issues of racism are dealt with.
The Chair of the FARE Board, Howard Holmes, welcomed the apologies. “It is time that the episode was closed and we looked at the lessons from the Suarez affair. The incident has highlighted a number of gaps in the way in which we deal with racial abuse and other forms of discrimination in the UK which need to be resolved, but we can't do this until the matter is moved on.
FA acted “clearly and in a principled way
“These issues have highlighted how far English football has to travel to effectively deal with issues of discrimination. However I would congratulate the FA for the clear and principled way in which they have dealt with the issues before them.
“We call on all Liverpool fans to join us and others in seeking to repair the damage and move on in the name of our sport and for our society.”