DESPITE DESIRE FOR PROGRESS, RACISM IN FOOTBALL IS STILL ENDEMIC
As much as we all wish it were different, it cannot be denied that racism in football still exists. In fact, Kick it Out recently published their annual report on discrimination in football with statistics that show that racism in the game is not only ongoing but growing. For the sixth year in a row, they have seen an increase in reports of discrimination, with racism making up 53% of all incidents.
Unfortunately, this fact is hardly surprising. Ask anyone who follows football, even loosely, and it is likely that they will be able to name at least one incident of this type of discrimination. And these incidents will not be subtle microagressions but bold public acts of racism aimed against players. The sort of behaviour that might be expected in 1950, but not in 2019. Take perhaps the most prominent recent case of this type, in which Danny Rose, Raheem Stirling and Callum Hudson-Odoi were subject to racist chants, gestures and noises when playing against Montenegro in Podgorica. There was no attempt to hide the intentions or meaning behind this behaviour. Racists are bold and fearless in their treatment in black players – just look at the Valencia fans who were filmed making racist gestures and Nazi salutes when their team were defeated by Arsenal. The type of behaviour that would not be accepted anywhere else has somehow become the norm in the stands.
I should make clear that it is not just in men’s football that players are experiencing this level of abuse. Only a few months ago, Sheffield United Women’s forward Sophie Jones was charged by the FA for racially abusing Tottenham’s Renee Hector during a match. What is perhaps most shocking about this is not the simple act of abuse, but the fact that the abuse comes from a player themselves. Players should be working to eliminate discrimination, not contributing to it. As the only female campaigner against this type of discrimination in football, to see another woman engaging in this behaviour is particularly upsetting.
There have of course been repercussions to these types of behaviours, but players have been open about their disappointment in the leniency of these punishments. Montenegro were ordered to play their qualifying match behind closed doors and fined €20,000. Danny Rose has publicly spoken about his disappointment towards this punishment, stating ‘I don’t think it’s a harsh enough punishment for someone to learn from in the future… it’s a bit shocking’. Only yesterday it was announced that Serie A will not be sanctioning Cagliari for fans’ racist abuse of Moise Kean. Despite acknowledging that the chants ‘reprehensible’, they will make no charges or take further action.
It is not just top-tier footballers who feel that they are being failed by organisations in their punishment of abuse. Linford Harris, who played for FC Wymeswold recently quit football after The Saturday Vase Final between Wymeswold and Cosby United was halted mid-match due to racist chants from the crowd. Harris has also publicly spoken about his disappointment with the way in which Leicestershire FA have dealt with his report – alleging that ‘Nothing seems to be moving. No-one has had a call. It is not getting dealt with’.
These are of course only a select number of the incidents and responses that happen on and off the field year-round, but I am using them as an example of the urgency with which we need to tackle discrimination in football. The reported incidents of racism on and off the pitch have increased to the level where on 11 April 2019 ‘Discrimination in Football’ was debated in the House of Commons at length. MPs made clear that there was a serious issue at the heart of the sport that needed to be addressed, coming to the conclusion that there is much work to be done not just within the FA but within schools. They noted that education must be used to increase awareness of racial abuse – and hopefully the positive outcome of this debate will lead to significant change.
I agree that education is a good place to start with tackling this issue. But I also am aware of just how toxic and prolific this issue is. My hope is that the Justin Fashanu foundation can work towards eliminating this abuse, making football an equal playing field for players of all races. It is a big ask, but I believe it is possible.