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April 15, 2017. Millwall Lionesses players promoting Kick It Out before a FA WSL match.

Picture by: Katie Chan / Wikipedia

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From stadiums to screens: the alarming rise of racism in football

This article aims to delve into this pressing issue, providing a comprehensive examination of related events that transpired during the year.

With the ongoing 2023–24 football season, it becomes crucial to address instances of racism, which were one of the most commonly reported forms of discrimination last season.

The problem of racial abuse has historically persisted in football, marked by an escalation in racist abuse towards Black players on the pitch. In response, supporters have been reacting and organising a great number of anti-racist events. However, this issue extends beyond the confines of one-off instances.

According to the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), racist, violent and extremist organisations and groups have been benefitting from the rise of the internet to disseminate their hate-filled ideas to a wider audience and with a great degree of impunity.

The rise of social media has transformed racism from word of mouth to a chain of comments on multiple social media posts in many fields, including sports. However, despite the challenges posed by online platforms, efforts to combat racism in football have also evolved, with more awareness being spread over the issue.

In 1993, Kick It Out was established as a campaign with the slogan ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football’. Four years later, in 1997, it was registered as an organisation to tackle all forms of discrimination.

Since then, Kick It Out has made huge progress by raising awareness, confronting issues and helping football be better.

Among other initiatives is the Fare network. It is an umbrella organisation that brings together individuals, informal groups and organisations driven to combat inequality in football and use the sport as a means for social change.

What are the latest reports saying?

Racism remained the most commonly reported form of discrimination in football for the 2022–23 season, according to an annual Kick It Out report. It was the most common form of discrimination in both professional and grassroots football, making up 49.3% of all reports.

Kick It Out registered an unprecedented 1,007 reports of discriminatory behaviour during the season. The overall figure, encompassing reports from professional matches, grassroots activities and social media comments, reflects a significant 65.1% increase compared to the previous season.

The number of online abuse cases shot up by an astounding 279%, with the organisation getting 207 more reports about online forums and social media platforms.

What are the examples of fan racism?

There have been numerous instances of fans directing racist remarks towards teams or individuals. One such case involved former Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand. A 33 year-old Wolves fan, Jamie Arnold (convicted and sentenced to six months in prison), racially abused Ferdinand while he was working as a pundit for TNT Sports. Rio stated that “still to this day I do not know why I was abused,” and later told the court he felt “sick and distressed.”

Another high-profile case occurred in May 2023 when Real Madrid superstar Vinicius Junior faced racist abuse during a La Liga match against Valencia. Vinicius condemned the racial abuse after being targeted by opposition fans, expressing frustration with the normalisation of racism in La Liga.

Similarly, in April 2023, Inter Milan striker Romelu Lukaku experienced racist jeers from Juventus fans during a Coppa Italia match. Lukaku’s representatives condemned the remarks as “despicable,” demanding an apology from Juventus, while Lukaku himself called for genuine action against racism on Instagram.

 

 

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Racism has impacted not only players in the top leagues but also those in lower leagues and teams.

For example, in a non-league game in 2023, a match got called off towards the end of the second half due to the severity of received abuse. Wednesfield, the team subjected to this abuse, published an online statement that the incident at the club in Worcestershire involved “racial remarks from spectators towards our players who were in the dugout … We chose to leave the field as a team to make a stand against the comments.”

They emphasised: “This has no place and cannot be tolerated in any walk of life, let alone in sport.”

In a 2023 article by Sky Sports, the severity of such abuse is extensively explored, highlighting derogatory comments and actions directed at players of colour. Vinicius Junior, for instance, endured the degrading experience of facing monkey chants “hurled” at him.

Fans have not only exhibited racism in person towards players and teams but also resorted to social media to criticise players for their performances through racially motivated comments and gestures. In fact, a study conducted by the Alan Turing Institute found that 2.3mn tweets alone were directed at Premier League footballers in the first five months of the 2022–23 season. While only 80,000 of these were seen as abusive comments, but this alone is still a large number and is creating a serious risk of harm to players.

This was also demonstrated by the published stats in Kick It Out, with 54% of all reports relating to racism.

What has been the institutional response?

In response to the alarming rise in racist incidents, FIFA issued a statement condemning such behaviour. President Gianni Infantino has taken proactive steps, including a meeting with Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, as well as with his national team, Brazil.

Infantino’s resolute message underscored FIFA’s unwavering stance against discrimination, emphasising a “zero tolerance” policy multiple times during the interview. “If there is racism, there is no football,” he concluded.

Infantino asserted that authorities must shoulder their responsibility in combating racism, highlighting FIFA’s efforts through the establishment of anti-racism task forces.

Additionally, UEFA has implemented measures such as deploying ‘undercover fans’ at football matches. The organisation trains volunteer observers who listen for racist chants and watch for extremist symbols on banners. They also monitor hardcore fan groups’ social media to track where incidents may occur.

Written by:

author_bio

Isaaq Hussain

Sports Correspondent

United Kingdom

Born in 2007, Isaaq is interested in football and English Literature. He plans to study Physical Education and Sports Journalism.

In his free time, Isaaq enjoys playing sports, reading, and watching TV shows.

Isaaq speaks English and is learning German.

Edited by:

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Sofiya Tkachenko

former Editor-in-chief

Kyiv, Ukraine | Vienna, Austria

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