By Aliya Padhani
A group of Muslim men who performed their sunset prayers just before half time at the West Ham vs Man City game faced a barrage of abuse from West Hams fans.
The incident on October 19 occurred after West Ham invited local groups to watch the game with discounted tickets through West Ham United Community Sports Trust, which focuses on community outreach.
Football grounds are historically known to foster racism, thus West Ham in partnership with the Community Sports Trust invited a diverse group of people from the local area to come to the match in an attempt to bridge divides between the club and community. This Muslim group of men had been invited by West Ham as a part of the initiative.
The video which was posted on a West Hams supporters page depicts one of the fans saying “are you F****** serious? What is this? ”.
This initial shock turned to outrage as they surrounded the men and began hurling abusive words at them and then, as more fans gathered they began chanting “Iron,” which is a word typically used to drown out the opposition.
The Facebook comments accompanying the video were mixed. Whereas others sympathised with the Muslim men, deeming the attack, “Islamophobic” others bizarrely blamed the men for praying saying, “there is no room for religion in sport,” another commentator added; “I’m no racist but seeing bout 30 Muslims get their prayer mats out at half time in front of a loada [sic] west ham fans at the game in the concourse has to be one of the dumbest things they can do if they don’t wana be targeted or stereotyped in society. # Not doing yourself any favours.” There were also jokes about “bacon sandwiches”.
Jim Fitzpatrick MP and anti-racist campaigner said that “It’s pretty disturbing that people who were observing their own religion appear to be intimidated.” He called on football clubs to provide prayer rooms to avoid such incidents.
Despite the unfortunate incident West Ham United Community Sports Trust was highly praised by anti-racism and inclusion campaigners Kick It Out who said, “The club should be commended for the work they undertake throughout the local community and their efforts to see a more diverse and reflective following at matches. Kick It Out encourages similar collaborative work on future initiatives of this nature to ensure everyone continues to feel welcome and comfortable at the Boleyn Ground.”
A spokesman for West Ham United told The Muslim News the club has “a zero tolerance to racism” and they “take any claims of abuse very seriously.”
West Ham urged anyone who experienced Islamophobia on the day to come forward so they can deal with the incident and act accordingly.