Players should feel free to make own decisions over anti-racism campaign

Alex Ferguson's criticism of Rio Ferdinand's decision not to wear the Kick It Out T-shirt was unwarranted and players must be allowed to tackle racism within the dressing room, writes Christopher Pyke.

Rio Ferdinand, left, did not wear the Kick It Out T-shirt in the Premier League weekend, which annoyed Alex Ferguson, his manager at Manchester United. Michael Regan / Getty Images
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Premier League players are adults. It is strange that such a statement needs to be made, but these are a group of overpaid, over-pampered individuals who have a tendency to make headlines – shooting a work experience student with an air gun, setting your house on fire by letting off fireworks in the bathroom, throwing darts at the youth team player.

But they, as adults, have the right to do as they see fit, within reason. Sir Alex Ferguson's statement on Saturday that Rio Ferdinand will "be dealt with" after refusing to wear a "Kick It Out" anti-racism T-shirt was ill considered.

Ferguson had, a day earlier, criticised the news that the Reading striker Jason Roberts had declared he would not don the anti-racism group's T-shirt in protest at the group's lack of action to prevent racism.

Following Ferdinand's decision not to join the protest, ahead of United's home game against Stoke City, Ferguson said he was "embarrassed".

Even though manager and player have now made up and resolved their differences, the whole matter has done nothing to help the issue.

Perhaps Ferguson did not consider the connotations of a 70-something white man telling a 30-something black man how to act on the issue of racism, or the boundaries between managing a player and limiting his freedom of expression.

Whether or not you feel Ferdinand had an argument to make - he was also fined by the English Football Association in the summer for retweeting a racist remark - the player was unhappy with the work of the Kick It Out organisation and had the right to express his displeasure.

It was a decision that was matched by more than 30 Premier League players, including Rio's brother Anton at Queens Park Rangers, yet only one manager condemned his player for not wearing the T-shirt. It showed Ferguson in a bad light, not so much for his belief that Ferdinand should have followed the club line but more for the way he dealt with the matter.

The experienced manager rarely lambasts his players in public, his famous "hairdryer treatment" is saved for behind closed doors, which is where this matter should have be dealt with. By speaking out publicly, it has become another distraction from the real case in hand.

Racism does indeed need to be kicked out, but while T-shirts help publicise the cause, it is the players on the pitch who need to deal with the situations when they arise.

There is no team in the league solely made up of white players, so for a player to utter a derogatory remark to an opponent based on ethnicity is an insult to his own teammates as well.

Adults, if they can behave like that, should be able to police these matters themselves - hopefully without the help of a darts or an air gun.

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