When does banter cross the line and become a problem?

It's often just a laugh but how far should you go to wind up your rivals?

Football fans across the country are currently under more scrutiny than ever for various discriminative chanting, and it’s quite rightly becoming something that discussions are opening up about. It’s hard to watch the news now without one of the headlines being about fans, generally of Premier League clubs, being tracked down because the nature of their ‘banter’ is sexist, racist, homophobic or discriminative in some other way.

The big question is; when does ‘banter’ become offensive? The short answer is probably that simple banter is nearly always offensive, even if the parties involved are neither trying to offend or invite offence. The subsequent questions are; how do we LUCY WOOLFORD @lucy_whufc When does banter cross the line and become a problem? It’s often just a laugh but how far should you go to wind up your rivals? Abuse in football stop it? Is it causing any damage? Should we report it? Can we actually make a difference? The list goes on. I’m going to make my personal stance clear here, before I examine a few examples. I never take part in chanting that I deem to be inappropriate. It would just make me feel uncomfortable.

I believe that every action I take represents my personality and traits, and if I wouldn’t be comfortable saying something in a one-onone conversation, why would I shout it in a crowd?

However, and this is the bit I always feel slightly guilty about, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear something that could easily be deemed offensive by either an individual or a group of people. That might make me a bad person, but I also know it’s because I’m not too easily offended, and should I ever be on the receiving end of some juvenile words, I’d like to think I could laugh it off and give back as good as I got.

There lies the part of the ‘banter versus offence’ argument where things can get a little sticky. Often, the blame for any trouble caused or media attention attracted is put on to the offended party and there are calls for people not to be so sensitive. I have read several great pieces of journalism recently surrounding the issue of sexism in football, the most high profile case involving chanting aimed at Chelsea doctor Eva Carneiro, most stating that this is a highly intelligent woman who has studied hard to get to where she is, only to be seen as a bit of eye-candy for the lads.

You’ve probably all seen the videos of the disgusting songs she has been victim of in recent months, and it makes me feel really uncomfortable. Yes, it’s probably because, as a woman, this strikes a chord with me, so is that the issue here? Banter and offence is so open to interpretation due to personal circumstances, that it can never be ruled totally insulting. Because if you were to ask me about chants aimed at someone with ginger hair, I’d probably say I found them to be more amusing than personal and rude, regardless of the fact that I don’t agree with the sentiments.

Fans do need to be more proactive when it comes to reporting serious incidents that involve discrimination, but I personally don’t think that there is anything that can be done to stop offence being caused here, not for many years. I say years, because there are big generational changes that have occurred over the years, and will continue to do. So many people have grandparents that are ‘a little bit racist’ or ‘don’t agree with being gay’, but we see it as okay for them to have those views because of the age gap.

Well, those strong views are constantly being diluted, and as youngsters living in a diverse country in terms of race, religion and sexuality, not to mention a closing gender equality gap, there will be less acceptance for the odd round of offensive singing for entertainment values. Unfortunately, when researching the news archives, West Ham United is mentioned in all too many bad headlines. Our fans might feel singled out, but the reality is that our fans have sung the chants being highlighted. There’s no room for playground talk here and ‘he started it’, the fact is that offence has been caused. If this were a case of one fan talking to one person and relaying the ‘banter’ to their faces, how would the situation roll out?

As with so many topics I write about for Blowing Bubbles, this one has really got me thinking about my personal opinions and how I feel about it all, and the honest answer is that I don’t really know, I’m getting so many splinters from sitting on this fence that I’d give Falcao a run for his money. That makes me wonder if I’m fuelling the fire as much as anyone by failing to report incidences of inappropriate banter, whether it be from one fan or ten thousand fans.

The way I see it in my heart, is that I trust most of the fans I am surrounded by on match days, and I never get the sense that anyone really means what they’re saying. That doesn’t make it right, but just because these words come out of their mouths, it doesn’t mean that they genuinely hate a group of people. Ultimately, good banter is what keeps the spirits up when things are down, perhaps it’s just about time to be more creative and imaginative with banter, and consider how our words or actions will actually make some people feel on a human level.

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