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03rd Mar 2017

Why is mocking the disabled an acceptable form of prejudice?

David Haye's remarks have gone largely unchallenged...

George Ogier

David Haye versus Tony Bellew.

A fight with little or no relevance upon the global boxing landscape but one which has UK fight fans largely enthralled. It is a contest borne out of online and face-to-face insults rather than sporting challenge and it is almost upon us.

The nature of boxing means that many rivalries bubble along, powered by vitriol but this bout has seen one unpleasant turn after another.

Neither Haye or Bellew are strangers to press conference controversy. Bellew once threatened to put Nathan Cleverly “in the ground”.

Few boxing followers will ever forget the brawl between Haye and Dereck Chisora in Munich following Chisora’s loss to Vitali Klitschko.

Events like these help to sell boxing. When spectators are paying to see two fighters knock lumps out of each other it is all part of the entertainment. Insults are traded but most boxers know where to draw the line.

It is a line which David Haye stepped over on Monday when he referred to Tony Bellew’s fans as “fucking retards”.

The use of such language isn’t a particular surprise but the lack of widespread condemnation for the outburst is as disappointing as it is frustrating. It’s another example of why time and again it is becoming apparent that disability is the last acceptable discrimination.

Fight sports in general often close ranks when criticised by the wider world. The support for Tyson Fury in the wake of some appalling comments in 2015 left a nasty taste in the mouth. Whilst many within boxing let themselves down over the affair Fury was rightly hauled over the coals by the mainstream media.

In this instance reaction from both the boxing press and beyond has been a drop in the ocean by comparison. General Secretary of the British Boxing Board of Control, Robert Smith said “we’ll get the fight out of the way and do what we deem necessary. It’s a not a very good term and shouldn’t be used. We are very disappointed with this behaviour”.

Imagine for a second a press conference involving Amir Khan. How would we react as a society if his opponent used the P-word? Imagine a white fighter used a racial slur against a black boxer. In a fight of Saturday’s profile, had racism or homophobia come into it the story would rightly be on the front pages.

Make no mistake, that’s the level of offence we’re dealing with. The root of the issue lies in the fact that derogatory terms against the disabled are still part of everyday parlance. Retard, spastic and mong are just some of the terms that are still a huge part of language and it’s 2017.

Shortly after David Haye’s tirade the former footballer Kevin Kilbane appeared on Irish radio. Kilbane’s daughter has Down’s syndrome and he reacted very strongly, “With how we’ve gone on racism and sexism the use of these terms and language is disgraceful”.

Unfortunately, Kilbane is one of the few high profile to speak out about what happened.

It’s not just sports where we see this frankly archaic approach flourish. Some comedians still think it’s fine to make jokes about the disabled. On a Channel 4 show Frankie Boyle made a joke about Katie Price’s son who is blind, autistic and suffers from Prader-Willi syndrome. Australian Jim Jefferies has a history of cracking gags about disabled people.

To be clear I don’t for a second think either man hates those with disabilities. However, when high profile people make material like this part of their routine it normalises the behaviour and that filters down.

There’s a reason that the likes of Bernard Manning, Jim Davidson (below) and Roy “Chubby” Brown became less and less popular. Their jokes were seen as unacceptable in the changing face of multi-cultural Britain.

The words racism, sexism and homophobia are everywhere now. We are aware that they exist and right-minded people are thankfully working and even subconsciously fighting against the people that still propagate them.

There is a word for anti-disability discrimination, ableism. I’ve been disabled from birth, thirty-eight years and counting and I had to look it up. It’s just not something that is in the public eye.

Much of the ignorance surrounding disability is that very few people come into regular contact with someone they would consider to be disabled. It’s almost as if we’re a dirty secret. We are also often demonised in the press as scroungers and a burden on society. This portrayal causes its own problems.

Between 2014 and 2015 there was a 41% rise in disability hate crime. Considering many such occurrences are never even reported it is hard to gauge how big the issue is beyond that.

I’ve been spat at, yelled at, told that I should live “in a fucking home”. I’ve been punched and a girlfriend of mine was told on more than one occasion that she should be with a “real man”. All of these and more happened in the 21st Century and still happen now.

One in 6 people in Britain has a disability. It might not be immediately visible but it’s there. One in 7 people come from ethnic minorities and one in 35 people listed themselves as LGBT in the last census. We have made huge strides against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia but it feels like the disabled are getting left behind.

It isn’t a competition and the last thing I want is to suggest that disabled people are more deserving of equality. We all deserve just as much as anyone else and that’s kind of the point.

We have strived to eradicate the words which belittle people of different ethnicities, genders, sexualities and even socio-economic backgrounds. As generations move on we see more and more offensive names met with a wall of unacceptance.

Eventually I would like to see the same happen to the terms casually used by the likes of David Haye and a tragically large part of society.