UK firm warns press over 'racist' content on soccer manager

Do comments on 'Israel-obsessed' club go beyond legitimate criticism?

September 27, 2007 20:49
3 minute read.
UK firm warns press over 'racist' content on soccer manager

grant 88. (photo credit: )


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A British law firm is warning UK newspapers that it is examining their coverage of Avram Grant's appointment as manager of Chelsea Football Club for possible racist content, The Jerusalem Post has learned Graham Shear, a partner at the London law firm Teacher Stern Selby (also known as tsslaw), said on Thursday that his firm had been contacted by several people "who are concerned about the tone, content and insinuation of articles published by the British press" relating to Grant's appointment. The concern of these complainants, he said in a statement, was that some of the articles contained "what may appear to be racist overtones." The appointment of former Israeli national soccer team coach Grant at the helm of Chelsea, the world's richest soccer club, has prompted enormous controversy in the United Kingdom. Widespread criticism has derived from the fact that Grant has not previously managed a British team, and that while his record at club level in Israel featured considerable success, his time as Israel's national coach was marked by a failure to qualify for both the World Cup and the European Championships. The question prompted by solicitor Shear's statement, however, is whether some of the criticism has gone beyond the professional and legitimate, and might constitute a legally actionable offense under British laws such as those preventing incitement to racial hatred. Shear's statement made no mention of any specific article or news source. Numerous articles in a range of British newspapers over the past few days have made note of the fact that Grant is Israeli and Jewish and that Chelsea's Russian billionaire owner Roman Abramovich is also Jewish and a supporter of Israel. Some have reported, too, that Grant was introduced to Abramovich by the Israeli soccer agent Pini Zahavi. Sources close to Zahavi say he had nothing to do with Grant's appointment. At the forefront of the critics of the appointment has been the former British Foreign Office Minister, David Mellor, a lifelong Chelsea supporter who clashed with the Israeli government while in ministerial office over settlement policy. In an article in the London Evening Standard last week, Mellor asserted that the "hulking" and "dour" Grant, "hailing from football's lower depths," was at Chelsea "for one reason. He's an Israeli-Russian in a club owned by an Israel-obsessed Russian, who seems to love institutionalized conflict. Caligula made his horse a consul, and Abramovich made his director of football and now, God help us, manager." Martin Samuel, the chief football correspondent of The Times, meanwhile, asserted that there was "nothing in Grant's professional CV that qualifies him" for the Chelsea job, and that he had gotten it only as a consequence of "good connections, good fortune and powerful friends in high places." Chelsea had appointed "a mate of the owner, a member of his entourage, a chap who has had his ear and is widely presumed to have blown smoke in it and up some other places," wrote Samuel. The article portrayed Abramovich as being driven by "his Jewish heritage," which was said to matter more to him than his Russian roots. "It is this that he shares with his inner circle," it said. It added that Abramovich, like his "senior adviser" Zahavi, "is a frequent visitor to Israel, has been present at national team matches and sighted near the dressing-room after matches. He is sponsor of the First Channel Cup, which brings together teams from Israel, Russia and Ukraine, pumping £4 million into the 2007 tournament at a time when [Jose] Mourinho [the previous manager] was denied funds in the transfer window. "Abramovich attended every match bar one and flew in Russian pop stars to provide entertainment at lavish parties," the article continued. "With Abramovich as owner, Grant as manager and Zahavi a trusted confidant of the pair, Chelsea are not so much Russian these days as kosher."

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