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England’s football authorities not taking Islamophobia seriously, say Muslim footballers

19th Mar 2021

Harun Nasrullah

Football authorities in England are not taking Islamophobia seriously, Muslim footballer have told researchers at Birmingham City University and Nottingham Trent Universit. In the first study of its kind released last month, more than 40 male and female British Muslim footballers (aged 19 and 45), shared their experiences of facing Islamophobia in Sunday amateur leagues not just from spectators but from opponents and even teammates.

During the interviews with criminologists, some participants attributed blame to groups such as the Football Lads Alliance and other splinter groups associated with far-right sympathisers, who have operated on secret social media pages and blog sites endorsing violent and racist behaviour. A spokesman for the FA told The Muslim News that it, “takes all matters and allegations of discrimination extremely seriously and tackling inequality and discrimination is a key strategic priority for our organisation. We recognise the important role the FA continues to play in helping unite communities and break down barriers that may stop people from participating in football.”

He added that part of the FA’s work towards creating a more inclusive game includes “encouraging greater participation and working with faith groups to deliver events and mark notable moments with and for local communities. We continue to strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and encourage anybody who believes that they have been the subject of, or witness to, discriminatory abuse to report it through the appropriate channels: The FA, our County FA network or via our partners at Kick It Out.”

Imran Awan, Professor of Criminology at BCU and co-author of How the “Beautiful Game” Turned to Hate: Why Islamophobia has Creeped into Grassroots Football, said, “The current FA initiatives whilst welcomed, have failed to address the root causes of inequality and Islamophobia within grassroots football. The homegrown south Asian football players remain limited within the Premier League and our report highlights some of the shocking cases of Islamophobia that are rampant within the game.”

Awan told The Muslim News the FA is in need of “a radical change if they are likely to help grow a new generation of Muslim footballers within the UK. Our report has shown a snapshot of how Muslim men are perceived as being terrorists and Muslim women are viewed through the lens of gender oppression. We need to have an honest conversation about the impacts this is having on local communities.”

The current scouting system was meanwhile described as “not fit for purpose” by Dr Irene Zempi, a senior lecturer in criminology at NTU. “Clubs also need a separate hate crime strategy and one that tackles institutional racism,” she added. Muslim women described how wearing the hijab made them a target of online hostility and offline abuse from other players, and of being held back and unselected by their own team.

Others spoke of being unable to source sponsorship, having to seek counselling because of the abuse and witnessing young children on the sidelines repeat the hatred espoused by their parents.  The research comes after data gathered by the police, the FA and anti-discrimination campaigners showed an incident of hate crime at one in 10 football fixtures during the 2019/20 season in England and Wales.

Participants in the research linked problems with Islamophobia at the grassroots level to the lack of representation of Muslims at more senior levels of football, especially in the Premier League. “Trigger events” such as terrorist attacks and some media reporting on Islam and Muslims were also linked.

“Asian men like me who are brown and have a beard go into predominantly white areas to play football, in these areas they associate being brown and having a beard with being a terrorist,” said one participant. “Their first feeling when they see us is negativity and hate because of the propaganda the media perpetuate”.

One female participant said, “I receive racist and misogynistic posts on my Facebook account. They call me Isis b**tch and Bin Laden’s daughter”.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence event is to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to society. Over 850 people from diverse background, Muslim and non-Muslim, attended the gala dinner.

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