Stand up! Speak up!

Tackling Racism in British Football

Racism within football is nothing new and, with xenophobic rhetoric becoming ever more commonplace across the world, its recent spike comes as no surprise.

In the UK football-related hate crimes rose by 47% during the 2018-2019 season, with 79% of these incidents being related to race.

Although it can be recognised that the issue of racism is a deeply-rooted one that has undeniably become a staple fixture within grassroots football, it is worryingly starting to become normalised within the professional game.

Despite the fact that the 2019/20 season is yet to conclude, it seems there has been a dramatic upturn in incidents even compared to last season.

From the online abuse England stars Marcus Rashford and Tammy Abraham received in the wake of their crucial recent penalty misses to the racial slanders hurled by fans towards the black players of Haringey Borough FC during their FA Cup match against Yeovil Town, a series of increasingly alarming incidents pinpoints the lack of progress made in terms of improving race relations within British football.

The bold efforts of current and ex-professionals such as Raheem Sterling and Les Ferdinand to call out media outlets who fuel this deeply divisive issue, and governing bodies who to many appear nonchalant, almost feel in vain given the frequency with which such incidents seem to occur.

Is there a binary solution that will eradicate racism in football in its entirety? Sadly not, however the beautiful game and those associated within can most certainly influence mass perceptions, shifting the manner in which racism is dealt with.

One example of how progress is being made comes from the USA. The ‘Take the Lead’ initiative, that is supported by all major sports teams in Boston, aims to combat racism and hate speech.

It is not designed to be a quick fix, but to lay down initiatives that will deliver a longer-term benefit. These include the provision of emergency helplines for fans at all sporting fixtures, the hosting of a BAME-specific careers summit to promote inclusive hiring practices within the sports industry and countless forms of diverse community outreach.

In parallel, the footballing haven of Brazil has witnessed the rise of Bahia Football Club, an organisation committed to progressive values. By championing the importance of affirmative action, Bahia campaigns on issues such as LGBQT rights, the demarcation of indigenous lands, environmental mismanagement and, of course, racism.

This demonstrates that clubs and governing bodies within British football need to be at the forefront of the movement against racial hatred but there is also a role for sponsors and brands that seek to associate with the many fantastic qualities that football has to use their marketing muscle to address the issue of racism.

Coca-Cola’s Premier League campaign ‘Where Everyone Plays’ demonstrates how brands can gain from tackling diversity issues but there is more to be done by other commercial interests in and around the sport.

The game continues to evolve on many fronts, with the integration of innovative technology (VAR) and the promotion of inclusivity, particularly through the incredible momentum around the women’s game.

Surely race relations should become an absolute priority as only then can football look at itself in the mirror and say it did all it could to address racism in the game.

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