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Bennett speaks out on racism debate
FORMER Sunderland defender Gary Bennett believes every player should have worn Kick It Out T-Shirts at the weekend, but admits society is taking backward steps in the fight to eradicate racism from football.
More than 30 players from eight Premier League clubs chose not to support the annual Kick It Out awareness drive by refusing to wear a campaign T-shirt during their warm-ups at the weekend.
Their actions came in light of UEFA's reaction to the racist chants towards England Under-21 defender Danny Rose and the post-match brawl that marred England's European Championship qualifying play-off in Serbia.
Among those players was Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand and his brother, Anton, who was subject to racist comments that Chelsea captain John Terry was found guilty of.
Former Sunderland defender Bennett, who regularly visits schools and takes part in anti-racism workshops across the country as part of the Show Racism The Red Card scheme, believes refraining from wearing Kick It Out T-Shirts was the wrong thing to do, but admits he understands their reasons why.
"It's their choice. It's their decision not to wear the T-shirts. Personally, I think they should have worn them, but I think it boils down to frustration," Bennett said.
"It seems as though they feel that they're not being heard and they're not being taken seriously. Obviously with what's been going on in recent months with the John Terry and Luis Suarez cases and now the Danny Rose incident, it seems as though nothing serious is being done about it."
In the wake of Rio Ferdinand's decision, Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson called the his actions "embarrassing" and insisted they would be "dealt with internally".
Ferguson revealed the situation had been resolved yesterday, but Bennett believes the Red Devils boss was perhaps wrong to question his defender's choice.
He said: "I think it's the first time someone has gone against something Ferguson has said. From Rio's point of view he's making a stance. It's personal issue for him.
"It's okay for people to say get on with it and wear the T-shirt but it's his brother who has been on the wrong end of it. You've got to be in that situation or suffered it to understand where they're coming from.
"Wearing the T-shirt will not get rid of it, but it will support it and hopefully send the right message out, but a lot more needs to be done.
"It would have been interesting if I'd still been playing and it is easier for me on the outside looking in and saying they should have worn the T-shirts. Every individual has their own reasons."
Bennett believes the problem lies higher up and says the contrasting punishments aren't sending out the right message.
"It's got to a stage now when everyone needs to sit round a table. The Professional Footballers Association (PFA), Kick it Out, Show Racism The Red Card and all the governing bodies need sit down and say 'look, we need to act on this and start taking them seriously and start handing out sentences and punishments that will stop this from happening in the future.'
"There's different punishments being dished out for different incidents and it clearly isn't doing anything. That's what has annoyed a few of the players. There's nothing set in stone.
"A supporter at Chelsea Football Club was banned for life for racist comments, John Terry, captain of Chelsea Football Club gets a £200,000-odd fine and Suarez gets an eight-match ban. You can go on and on, you just don't know."
Bennett was at Sunday's Wear-Tyne derby at the Stadium of Light, where Newcastle striker Demba Ba was understood to have been subject to racist comments.
Despite initiatives like Kick It Out and Show Racism The Red Card working to educate people, racism still exists in the game and Bennett admits it is worrying that the society seems to be taking backward steps instead of making progress.
He said: "You could maybe understand 20 years ago when it was happening and we didn't have governing bodies or support in place.
"We weren't as educated about it, but we are now. We've made giant strides trying to tackle it in this country, but I think over the last year or so we've gone backwards.
"Two sets of supporters might not like each other but it's getting to the stage now where chanting has gone beyond football and we've seen that in the derby. There's football banter between rival supporters but it seems in cases people have gone beyond that."