The number of hate crimes reported at professional football games last season increased by 66% in England and Wales – according to Home Office figures.
There have been a number of prominent cases of racism in football, with professional footballers including Raheem Sterling and Vincent Kompany becoming faces of anti-discrimination campaigns. Although the problem is not limited to professional football, as grassroots teams have also reported an increase in racist incidents at matches.
But why is this? Are the amount of incidents really increasing or are we just more aware of this kind of discrimination and feel more able to report it?
Members of the public are calling on the government to take decisive action with regards to racism, both in society and sport. They are working closely with sporting organisations, charities and individuals to discuss potential actions to put in place to combat discrimination in sport.
The most recent discussions suggested a stronger focus on education around racism, better reporting systems, improved training for referees and stewards and a stronger approach to recognition of offenders through better CCTV and body cameras on stewards.
Officials from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said: “The Government has a clear policy that there is no place for racism or discrimination of any kind in sport, or in society.”
“Racism will never be tolerated and the football authorities must ensure that affairs are conducted in accordance with the law and to take additional steps that may be necessary to keep racism out of football.
“There is still more to do. It is vital the football authorities continue to prioritise tackling this despicable abuse and we will continue to work closely with them as they progress their plans.”
The Government has said it is prepared to take ‘further steps’ in its fight against racism in football as it is clear that more needs to be done.
It has called on sporting organisations to continue to deal with this issue and the amount of high-profile incidents covered publicly leads to greater pressure on them to do so.
Organisations are working towards this goal however they are being encouraged to send clear messages with regards to how they punish discriminatory incidents.
At the moment, if a player has engaged in racist behaviour, they will be suspended for five games and fined at least £15,000 by FIFA.
When a club’s fans are found to be exhibiting this behaviour, the club can be fined.
However, given the amount of incidents we read about in the news, there seem to be very few perpetrators who are actually taken to court.
It is now suggested that there should be harsher punishments for individuals to set an example and act as a deterrent.
It is also suggested that teams should receive point deductions or even be relegated to demonstrate the severity of these actions.
These authorities are also looking at their own equality standards. The FA has set a goal of increasing Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) employees to 16% by 2021, from 13% previously. This is to improve representation within the company itself and to address the need for diversity within the board room.
Charities and associations play a huge part in tackling racism within sport.
Anti-discrimination organisation, Kick it Out, is funded by the FA, Professional Footballers’ Association, Premier League and EFL.
In the 2018-19 season, it received almost £630,000 in core funding, which was used to support campaign work in both professional and grassroots football.
However, it reported a 12% increase in reports of discriminatory abuse as it received 581 complaints through its reporting system. It also reported that racism remains to be the most common form of discrimination, making up 65% of all reports. This sadly does not include all of the additional incidents which go unreported.
Kick It Out offers optional training for coaches and referees in dealing with racism and discrimination however the FA has the authority to make this compulsory and many are calling on them to do so. It also fundraises through various activities and events to fund initiatives for equality.
A Kick it Out spokesperson said: “Kick it Out is at the heart of the fight against discrimination for everyone who plays, watches or works in football.”
“The campaign has been pivotal in persuading and supporting the game’s stakeholders to take their equality responsibilities seriously.
“Our vision is that football will be a sport where people flourish in a supportive community, and where fairness is openly and transparently practised and enforced for the good of all participants.”
For many charities, education is undoubtedly at the forefront in the fight against racism. Show Racism the Red Card is the leading anti-racism educational charity in the UK.
It works with young people and adults, delivering training and workshops about racism in society as well as in sport.
It also plays a vital role in the challenge to eradicate racism from football at all levels.
Fred Harms, a Campaign Worker for Show Racism the Red Card, said: “We believe education is fundamental in fighting against racism.”
“What we try to do is give people the tools they need to question these influences and help them engage with critical thinking.
“We believe that the racism displayed at football stems from the racism in society.
“If we can educate young people to challenge racist attitudes, this will have a huge impact on the future culture that we create in the world.
“A culture of inclusivity and a respect for others is something that is achievable through hard work and continuing to spread the message that we and other equality charities and organisations do.”
Charities and organisations give people the tools to recognise racist behaviour and challenge it not just in the world of football, but also within society.
Amjid Khazir works within the Middlesbrough community and beyond to fight against racism, prejudice and extremism.
He founded Media Cultured, a company which encourages inclusion through education and training workshops in schools, colleges, universities, football clubs, call centres, factories and places of worship.
Khazir also helped to set up Boro Fusion, a club for BAME supporters, offering support and encouragement to attend games.
After an event at a game in Birmingham at which some Middlesbrough fans had torn up and threatened to burn copies of the Qu’ran, the club took steps to tackle this issue and prevent similar incidents in the future.
Media Cultured worked with the club to deliver workshops around racism and extremism.
Khazir said: “Our high-impact education programs for players, supporters and club-staff have led us to partner with the Premier League and to have worked closely with leading UK sports clubs and the NSPCC amongst others.”
“We have delivered a number of projects with MFC around tackling racism including providing safeguarding training for staff around increasing knowledge on extremism and far-right links to football.
“Our work has been central to enhancing and complimenting work to improve equality standards at the club.
“The better we are at sharing our cultures, times, ideas and care for each other, the stronger we become in rejecting all forms of racism, division, prejudice, misinformation and misrepresentation.
“Sport needs to enhance its understanding of racism and extremism from the board room to the wider community.”
Middlesbrough Football Club has worked closely with Media Cultured in order to deliver sessions around racism and extremism.
It also runs its own equality campaign, Riversidebyside, which promotes diversity and inclusion in the region, hosting events and supporting charities.
Kathryn Hancock, Head of Equality at Middlesbrough Football Club, said: “MFC are committed to equal opportunities, treating people fairly and preventing discrimination of all forms.”
“We have a zero tolerance approach to racist and anti-semetic behaviour.
“We have various procedures in place but the most common methods are to report it to a Steward or via the MFC or Kick it Out apps.
Our safety stewards are trained to be able to confidently deal with racist incidents at matches.
“We have CCTV in operation which allows us to identify when incidents occur or to look back over if a complaint has been made. We will inform the police who will take appropriate action.”
They also have the power to ban home supporters and suspend season tickets.
But is enough being done to combat racism in the Middlesbrough area? A Freedom of Information (FOI) report stated that from 2011 onwards there were only eight arrests for football-related racist behaviour in Middlesbrough.
In the same time period there has only been one banning order issued in Middlesbrough as a result of racist behaviour.
It is surprising that there have only been eight arrests for this in our area in nine years, which could suggest that punishments for perpetrators are simply not harsh enough.
Sport can only be free of racism when society is. This comes from equality within communities, representation in board rooms and respect from individuals.
Education is the only way to address the issue of discrimination, from young children to adults.
By teaching children about discrimination, they will grow up with a greater understanding of it and will not tolerate that kind of behaviour.
We can only hope that by continuing campaign work and educating communities and younger people, they will grow up with more inclusive attitudes and one day racism really will have been stamped out of football and society.