Sol Campbell's racism claims do sport a disservice

By David Alexander

The world has changed incredibly since I was a young boy.

A mixed-race child in a predominantly white neighbourhood, I got plenty of verbal and physical abuse that was brushed aside by teachers in a way that would never happen today.

I did a BBC training course one university summer holiday and discovered those students from an ethnic background speaking vociferously about the institutional racism that they encountered whenever they applied for jobs.

When I went to football matches in the early 1980s, I remember seeing National Front members standing outside supporters' clubs in London, handing out leaflets; and fans from my own team making monkey noises at opposition players all around me.

There are still incidents occurring - as striker Jason Roberts spoke about recently.

But I think it's fair to say in sport and in life that progress has been made in the fight against racism, even if there is still room for improvement.

There are still not enough managers and coaches from ethnic minorities and hopefully club owners will start giving opportunities to more of them - on merit.

But I was troubled to hear former Arsenal defender Sol Campbell criticise the FA for racism because he was not made England captain more than three times during a career that spanned 73 international caps.

Campbell was a fine player at his peak and he did indeed captain Tottenham Hotspur.

But he was never made permanent captain at Arsenal and indeed speaks himself about rumours and whispers he believes other players made about him because he didn't act like one of the lads.

Not following the crowd, particularly in the heated atmosphere of an elite sports dressing room is to be applauded.

But by the same token, without the wholehearted admiration and respect of his peers, could Campbell really expect to be selected to lead the international team?

All those who did captain the England team during Campbell's career had genuine and valid reasons for being given the armband. To suggest that they were chosen because of the colour of his skin is churlish in the extreme.

The FA have, quite wisely, kept silent about the comments and no doubt England manager Roy Hodgson will give them short shrift when facing the media ahead of England's friendly later this week.

Recently-installed FA Chairman Greg Dyke called up Rio Ferdinand as part of his commission into the future of football in England, but there was some furore about the diversity of those initially appointed.

Whether it is about including ethnic minorities or more women, there is certainly plenty to do.

But whether we are talking about the England captain, FA Commission or any other position in football or society, appointments have to be made on merit rather than as token gestures to fulfil quotas.