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Discrimination in football on the rise

Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion organisation, has revealed a 'shocking' 42 per cent increase in the number of reports of discrimination across English football during the 2019/20 season.

The latest annual report for the 2019/20 season from the anti-discrimination charity, exposed an increase in the levels of racial and homophobic abuse, both on the pitch and across social media.

The alarming statistics have risen despite the season being halted due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kick It Out’s report covers the professional game as well as grassroots football.

Alongside the increase in reports of discrimination, which rose from 313 to 446 last season, there was also significant increases with regards to racial abuse, that had risen 53 per cent and abuse based around sexual orientation, up by a disturbing 95 per cent.

At grassroots level, there was decrease in the number of reports of discrimination, which fell to 94 reports from 113 the season before. However, due to Covid-19, matches were permanently cancelled from March, which compared to the equivalent time frame of the season prior, there was an 11% increase in reports.

Kick It Out also commissioned a YouGov poll that surveyed over 1,000 football fans, with the aim to gain a greater understanding of the forms of discrimination in the sport.

The survey uncovered that 39 per cent of the fans who took part had witnessed or heard an act of discrimination. Moreover, 14 per cent had witnessed discrimination in the last week alone.

Half of those questioned stated that it was unlikely they would report any form of racist of homophobic abuse that was targeted towards a player, coach or match official at a football game.

Sanjay Bhandari, Chair at Kick It Out said: “Football responded positively with clubs increasing their work in the community and with the players symbolising the demand for greater equality of opportunity, by taking a knee.

“But beneath the surface, hate and division in society remains a lurking pernicious threat.

“We need to aggregate the data across Kick It Out, clubs, law enforcement, governing bodies and others so that we have the complete picture to give us a greater chance of finding better solutions together.

“We urge those organisations to share data to create better insights.”

A host of current and ex-football players revealed racial abuse they had received across social media platforms, including Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha, Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick and Arsenal legend Ian Wright.

Bhandari added: "Social media can be a battleground of hate. We need to work together across society to win this battle.

"We need better regulation and enforcement and we need social media companies to be part of the solution. We need clubs and governing bodies to continue to lobby for change, sanction offending supporters and support law enforcement processes with the provision of evidence.

“We need players to continue to use their powerful voices. Kick It Out will play its part with campaigning, education and talent programmes that diversify the face of football. But this is everyone’s responsibility. We all need to take a stand."

The report also found how individuals were opting to report acts of discrimination, which has largely shifted from phone reports to social media, that jumped by 229 per cent.

Paul Elliott, Chair of the FA Inclusion Advisory Board, said: “The FA has made huge strides in recent years to ensure that English football is a diverse and inclusive game, but we know there is more to be done.

“Football has the unique ability to unite people and bring communities together and we will always strive to promote equality both on and off the pitch, working together with all football stakeholders including our partners at Kick It Out.

“We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and, while only participants fall under The FA’s jurisdiction, we investigate all reported forms of discriminatory abuse in English football at every level of the game and work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure matters are dealt with appropriately.”

Author: Jake Wilkin