Ian Wright’s departure from the BBC’s football punditry team casts shame on the corporation: it is guilty of cultural apartheid

So Ian Wright has decided to quit the BBC as a football pundit because he was made to look like a “comedy jester”. Too right. That is exactly how he was treated by the other pundits, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, and Alan Shearer. Wright was always made to look and feel as if he was the odd one out, never taken too seriously, his judgments discounted, his views made fun of, his relationship with his step-son Shaun Wright-Phillips the object of regular hilarity. It was demeaning; you could see Wright squirming, unsure of how to deal with it. As a viewer I found it embarrassing and distasteful. It was a grown man’s version of picking on someone in the school playground.

Wright is no fool. He already has a media career far more successful than any of the above, bar the relentlessly bland Lineker, the Cliff Richard of sports presenters, a genre greatly liked by the BBC. Wright’s credentials as a footballer are unimpeachable. He is a thoroughly likable and cuddly character. So what’s the problem? Why don’t the other pundits – and by implication, the BBC – take him seriously? Well, Wright is black. Apart from Garth Crooks, who is rarely given frontline exposure, Wright is the only high-profile BBC pundit who is. And even then he has been confined to commenting on England’s international matches. The standard fare on Match of the Day is white, white, and white again – messrs Lineker, Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson, et al. Given that one-third of Premier League players are black, this is a disgrace. It would not be accurate to say that the BBC operates a colour bar in football punditry, but it is certainly the case that black representation is, at the very best, token.

Greg Dyke, the former BBC director-general, described the corporation as “hideously white”. Defending these words on the Frost Programme, he later said: “I make no apologies for that … the makeup of the staffing of the BBC at particularly the management levels is too white for the multi-cultural society we now live in.” That is eloquently demonstrated by the choice of personnel for its football coverage. There is something deeply disturbing about a group of white pundits sitting in judgment upon matches where at least a third of the players are black. Are blacks only good enough for kicking a ball around but insufficiently endowed with grey matter to make good pundits? In which case, please explain why Marcel Desailly (the object of Ron Atkinson’s racial slur) and Ruud Gullit are two of the most interesting pundits to have appeared on television and certainly far superior to the present MOTD crowd. Nor is the problem confined to the BBC: another glaring example of cultural apartheid in football is the fact that there are presently only two black managers in the entire football league, one of whom is the highly commendable Paul Ince.

Wright didn’t make these points. How could he? It would have appeared like sour grapes. And contrary to what most whites think, it is demeaning for blacks to admit that they are the victims of racism, that they are regarded as inferior because of the colour of their skin. Wright explained it in terms of dress and style. In his case, we might take these as shorthand for colour. If BBC Sport, a bastion of the white mentality, was to take Dyke’s message of diversity to heart, then Ian Wright is not a bad place to start. He has been voted one of the top 100 black Britons, is a truly self-made man, and enjoys a large following in the black community. But the BBC has blown it. The corporation claimed that it was baffled by his comments. What world do these people live in?
Shame on them.