BusinessDay

Are football bodies doing enough about racism?

Following England’s defeat to Italy in a tense penalty shoot-out at the UEFA Euro 2020 final played in Wembley stadium, thousands of racist abuses have been hurled at the three of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka for missing their penalty kicks.

The two teams played to a 1-1 tie, and Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were among England’s players to participate in a penalty shootout to decide the winner of the match and the tournament. All three missed their shots.

After the game ended the players’ social media accounts, including Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter, were filled with racist comments and messages.

England Football Association, FIFA, London’s Metropolitan Police, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William have issued solidarity statements and condemned the attacks.

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Lewis Hamilton, an influential Black sporting figure and Formula 1’s seven-time world champion, voiced his condemnation of the attack and the underlying issues faced by minorities in sport.

“The pressure to deliver is felt by every sportsperson but when you are a minority representing your country, this is a layered experience. Success would feel like a double victory, but a miss feels like a two-fold failure when it’s compounded with racist abuse. We must work towards a society that doesn’t require Black players to prove their value or place in society only through victory.”

Twitter reportedly removed over 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended accounts that targeted abuse at the England players, as did Facebook and Instagram. A real estate service provider suspended an employee as they looked into racist tweets made by the employee. And a right-wing political commentator and comedian also faced scrutiny following their comments.

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But despite this outpouring of support, there is still much to be done to address the larger societal issues of racism in sports and create safe digital spaces.

Racism in sports

This is not the first time fans have taken to social media platforms to racially abuse players or sports personalities. Studies have shown that domestic violence surges after a football match ends. One study found that reports of domestic violence in the northwest of England during three football World Cups went up by 26 percent when the national team won or drew, and by 38 percent when the team lost.

Sports have also been at the centre on racial discrimination at all levels. For example, during and before the Euro 2020, the England team kneeled before kick-off in solidarity against racism and inequality but some fans booed this gesture.

Marcus Rashford, who has helped British schools tackle child hunger, has constantly highlighted the racist abuse that continues to be targeted towards him.

Law against racist abusers

Under regulations from 1989 designed to deter offensive behavior, those who hurl racist abuses at players from the stands at stadiums are banned from attending matches. But the rules do not cover online trolling — of which there is plenty.

English prime minister, Boris Johnson, said that the order would be extended to cover online racism.

The change came after efforts by fans to insist that more needed to be done.

Three women, Shaista Aziz, Amna Abdullatif and Huda Jawad, who describe themselves as the “Three Hijabis” because they are Muslim and wear hijabs, led much of the push among fans to stop future perpetrators both online and offline from watching soccer in a stadium, launching a petition on Change.org titled “Ban racists for life from all football matches in England.”

“We are calling for the Football Association and the government to work together now to ban all those who have carried out racist abuse, online or offline, from all football matches in England for life,” the trio wrote, targeting the campaign at the prime minister, the Football Association, and Secretary of State Oliver Dowden.

Over 1 million people had signed their names — a figure that continues to climb as people across the nation learn of the women’s efforts and share the petition.

According to The Washington Post, Abdullatif said the response to the petition has been “incredible” and promised that the group’s work was just beginning.

“We need to see action. We need to ensure we’re not just talking, which we’ve done many times before about racism in football. Words alone don’t create change,” she said. “Those perpetrating this behavior need to be held accountable.”

Abdullatif, who is based in Manchester, said she and the other activists hope the petition will prompt a response from the Football Association and help to implement meaningful action.

Twitter and Facebook response

A Twitter spokesperson said the “abhorrent, racist abuse directed at England players” had no place on the platform. Since the end of Sunday’s game, Twitter removed more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts.

The spokesperson did not say how many accounts were suspended for violating its rules against harassment and hateful content. “We have proactively engaged and continue to collaborate with our partners across the football community to identify ways to tackle this issue collectively and will continue to play our part in curbing this unacceptable behaviour — both online and offline,” the spokesperson said.

A Facebook spokesperson said the company didn’t have numbers to share but said the platform “quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules.” The spokesperson added that the company had encouraged all players to turn on Instagram’s hidden words tool, which prevents abuse or comments from being visible in direct messages.

FA’s role

England’s Football Association said that it was “appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.” Anyone behind the “disgusting” behavior is not welcome as a fan, the FA said, adding it was supporting the players “while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.”

The FA statement added that social media companies “need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making the platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse.”

England’s players were frequently booed by fans at Wembley Stadium during the tournament when the players kneeled on the field before matches as an anti-racism gesture. Both teams kneeled before the start of Sunday’s match, as well.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was criticized for previously failing to defend the players who kneeled before games, tweeted Monday that the players “deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.”

Southgate comments

England manager Gareth Southgate also condemned the racist social media attacks as “unforgivable”

Southgate added that his team had “been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue”.

“For some of them to be abused is unforgivable really. It’s just not what we stand for.”

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