It was announced in a recent governmental investigation that the FA’s ‘Fit and Proper Persons Test’ for prospective football club owners will require a tightening of regulations. After Dick Best’s appearance on Sky Sports News today, though, television producers may also need to rethink their screening procedures for pundits and contributors.
Best was speaking ahead of today's announcement of the British and Irish Lions squad for this summer's tour of South Africa. Asked why he had picked Delon Armitage ahead of Tommy Bowe in his Lions starting XV, the former England coach sniggered in the interviewer Phil Edwards’ ear, “You’ve always got to have a coloured boy in the team!”
As if the episode could become any more cringeworthy, the camera turned back to the studio, where the anchor Mike Wedderburn happened to be black. Visibly embarrassed, he uttered an uncertain “Yeeesss” before swiftly moving on to the next story.
The reaction was decisive but unconvincing. Wedderburn’s fellow presenter Millie Clode later apologised: "[Best] made remarks that he thought were off-camera. We would like to apologise for any offence this may have caused."
Sky appear to think that the real offence was having this racist remark made on camera, that a similarly offensive comment would have been acceptable away from our screens. Best’s casual racism was left to look like nothing more than a rugby club old boy’s joke. Armitage and Wedderburn might not find it quite so funny.
With such limp excuses, Ron Atkinson springs to mind. Atkinson’s commentary career came to a halt after calling Marcel Desailly a “lazy nigger”, yet instead of an earnest apology, there was only talk of the comment being meant for off-air discussion.
More recently, Carol Thatcher referred to tennis player Jo-Wilfred Tsonga as a “golliwog” while in the green room of the BBC’s The One Show, an incident which led to her being dropped from the programme. Thatcher, however, maintains that her comment should have remained private, that the remark was a “joke”.
Off-record or not, casual or malicious; racism should not be cast aside as jovial backstage chit-chat, and certainly cannot be brushed under the ever-bulging carpets of TV bosses.