Racial and religious abuse in football up for a seventh consecutive year

27th Sep 2019

Elham Asaad Buaras

Incidents of racial, religious and other forms of discrimination in English grassroots and professional football rose for the seventh year in a row last season, according to football’s equality and inclusion charity Kick It Out.

Premiership superstars including Egyptian Mohamed Salah and Gabonese Pierre-Emerick were subjected to racist and Islamophobic abuse last season, and that is reflected in Kick It Out’s latest annual report.

According to the findings published on July 24, Kick It Out received 581 reports of discrimination, a 12 per cent rise on the 2017-18’s figure of 520 and more than double the number recorded five years ago. There was also an alarming increase in antisemitism and Islamophobia, with faith-based discrimination rising by 75 per cent from 36 to 63.

One of the incidents included in the report is the Islamophobic abuse directed at Liverpool’s Salah during a match at West Ham’s London Stadium in February.
Salah was filmed on a mobile phone from a section of home supporters as he was taking a corner. A male can be heard shouting: “Salah you f****** Muslim. F****** Muslim c***. F*** off.”

In 2018 The Times reported the Premier League warned clubs about the Football Lads Alliance (FLA) after investigations have revealed that the group is using fans and stadiums to push an anti-Muslim agenda.

The Premier League has warned clubs that “the group is using fans and stadiums to push an anti-Muslim agenda.” Concern has also been expressed that the Alliance is “giving cover to the far-right” and “uses a secret Facebook page full of violent, racist and misogynistic posts.”

The FLA was set up the previous year as a self-proclaimed “anti-extremist” movement and has displayed banners at several stadiums this season, but has increasingly become associated with far-right activists.
This increase in racial and religious hate incidents comes despite Kick It Out using a more conservative measure for reports of discrimination on social media. In the past, the charity has treated each discriminatory comment on social media as an incident but is now only recording the initial comment in a Facebook post or a Twitter thread, a change that saw the number of social media reports fall from 201 in 2017-18 to 159 last season.

Excluding social media, the number of reports leapt by a third last season from 319 to 422, with reports of racism increasing by 43 per cent to account for two-thirds of the total.

Kick It Out Chief Executive, Roisin Wood, said: “Football reflects the society it is played and watched in and these figures are sadly not surprising. The sharp increase in faith-based discrimination is also worrying and represents a challenge to us all – what are we doing to address this intolerance?

“We feel that incidents at the grassroots level are still under-reported and this could be due to the length of time it takes a complainant to get their case satisfactorily concluded, and even then there’s often disenchantment in the type of sanctions handed out. We need to build confidence that if you report a grassroots incident it will be dealt with effectively and efficiently.”

Responding to the figures, the FA said it had made “huge strides” in recent years to ensure English football is a “diverse and inclusive” game.

“We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and encourage all fans and participants who believe that they have been the subject of or witness to, discriminatory abuse to report it through the appropriate channels, the FA’s statement added.

However, Kick It Out says the FA has not informed them of the outcome in 79 per cent of the 109 discrimination cases reported in grassroots football 40 per cent of which were from under-18’s football.

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