Is racism in football being tackled effectively?

A look at racism in football and what's being done to combat it

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Below I take a look at racism in football. How it’s being dealt with, various incidents of racism in English football and elsewhere, and whether it’s getting worse as a phenomenon.

What is racism and why it appears in football?

Racism is a social phenomenon which is defined as the belief in the superiority of one race over another. In further analysis, other variants of racism are often based on social perceptions of biological, economical, sexual or religious differences between people. Sport and football in particular, as a subset of society, are inevitably also associated with the phenomenon of racism. People find it easier when they are hidden in the crowd to express any negative feelings, including hate and aggression towards a person or a group of a certain identity that they dislike or outright hate. However, how often do incidents of racism take place in the world of football? More importantly, are the actions taken to tackle racism in football effective?

Racism and English Football

While the Premier League was ranked second on average stadium attendance between 2013 and 2018 (CIES Football Observatory), it is by far the most-watched league in the world. The Premier League has a TV audience of more than 4.7 billion people per week in over 156 countries (Eurosport). Hence, by having the most popular league in the world, English football can be a good and representative example in us observing and analyzing racism in the sport.

Kick it out – the main inclusion organization which fights discrimination and racism in English football – have reported an increase of 43% in racist abuse incidents during the 2018-19 season compared to 2017-18. In further analysis in 2017-18 it was discovered that there were 192 racist incidents, whereas the following season that number increased to 274. These incidents include racial abuse of black football players as well as faith-based discrimination. The latter example, which includes Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, rose by 75%, from 36 to 63 instances, the highest percentage increase of any other form of abuse during that period.

Below are just some of the racist abuse incidents which took place in 2018-19:

December: Banana skin thrown on to the pitch during the north London derby at the Emirates Stadium, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for Arsenal.

December: Raheem Sterling suffers alleged racial abuse during Manchester City’s defeat at Chelsea. Sterling later says newspapers are helping to “fuel racism” by the ways in which they portray young black footballers.

March: Chelsea lodge a complaint with Uefa over racist abuse aimed at Callum Hudson-Odoi during Europa League last-16 second leg win at Dynamo Kiev.

March: England report racist abuse of players during their 5-1 win over Montenegro in Podgorica.

April: Juventus’ 19-year-old Italian forward Moise Kean suffers racist abuse from the stands during a match at Cagliari – with team-mate Leonardo Bonucci’s suggestion that Kean was partly to blame called “laughable” by Raheem Sterling.

April: Two incidents of alleged racist abuse, towards Derby winger Duane Holmes and Wigan defender Nathan Byrne, are reported in the Championship.

April: Troy Deeney and Watford team-mates Adrian Mariappa and Christian Kabasele receive racist abuse on social media.

April: Ashley Young receives racist abuse online following Manchester United’s Champions League defeat in Barcelona.

The current football season started not too long ago and Paul Pogba, Tammy Abraham and Marcus Rashford have all encountered racist abuse on social media after missing penalties.

Also, Raheem Sterling has experienced racist behaviour by Bulgarian fans during an international away game where the referee interrupted the match for several minutes. For the latter incident, the Bulgarian Football federation has been punished with a two-match stadium ban and a £64,650 fine by UEFA.

We cannot predict if the current football season will experience a decrease in the percentage of racist or otherwise discriminatory incidents, however, the statistics since 2012 are not encouraging in that regard. It is the seventh consecutive year in which reported incidents of discrimination within football have increased, and the 581 total reports are more than double the figure from five years ago.

Is the situation getting worse or people just speak more about it?

Some may argue that people may just report it more than ever before. Kick It Out launched a reporting application in 2015 – a campaign to end discrimination of all kinds in the sport – by which football fans who have witnessed discrimination in the stands can report it anonymously using their smartphones. Additionally, a number of professional clubs have developed their own reporting apps as well. As a result, this can be deemed as a positive, in that people talk and report racism more frequently which means the problem can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. In this way, any chance of tackling the phenomenon can be said to have effectively increased.

What about the money invested to fight racism in English football?

The total funding of Kick it Out by the FA, the Premier League, the Football League and the Professional Footballers’ association is £800,000 per year. Is this amount sufficient for the organization’s efforts in promoting campaigns aiming to tackle racism in English football? English football has the highest revenue compared to all football leagues in Europe with the figure reaching €5.7 billion in 2018-19, a figure that has kept increasing in each season since 1996-1997 (Statista). So should more money be invested in tackling racism in English Football?

By investing more money it will mean that more people may be employed by Kick it Out, promoting additional and broader anti-racism campaigns. Hence, the chances of decreasing the percentage of racist abuse in football may improve.

In conclusion, we can clearly see that people report racism in English football more than ever before. As a result, kick it out, football governing bodies and the clubs by now being aware of the seriousness of the problem, they must all work towards the same direction aiming to decrease the number of racist incidents in the sport.

However, this is just one aspect of the problem. There are still political and societal issues that contribute to the increase of racist incidents, this cannot solely be blamed on the increased frequency of reporting. It remains to be seen how Kick It Out’s efforts of addressing the issue can help in any direct manner, and if they also manage to galvanize a society and government apparatus often seen as too reactive and complacent.

by Joseph Violaris, BSc in Sports Science (Brunel University), MSc in Sports Management (Loughborough University)

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