racism in sport

The fitness test

Football still has a problem with racism. Can the game’s powerbrokers recognise it?

By Ravin Sampat, Chris Newell and Xavier Greenwood

At Monday night’s ThinkIn on racism in football, the consensus in the room was that the game has fundamental problems, especially with weak punishments for abuse, the lack of diversity in the upper echelons of the sport where the decision-making happens, and a clear bureaucratic issue with the way racism is reported and dealt with.

Football has a problem with punishments

Tottenham defender Danny Rose was one of several England players targeted with racial abuse during England’s Euro 2020 qualifiers in Montenegro. Rose said then: “When countries get fined what I probably spend on a night out in London what do you expect?” Uefa did punish Montenegro – ordering its team to play its next match behind closed doors to an empty stadium. But was that a serious deterrent? For comparison, when the Brazilian superstar Neymar used an Instagram post to criticise match officials in charge of Paris St Germain’s defeat to Manchester United in March, Uefa gave him a three-match ban.

Last season, Kick It Out – football’s equality and inclusion organisation since 1997 – criticised Fifa after it fined England £16,000 when a player drank the wrong energy drink at the Under-20 World Cup. The fine was only £6,000 less than Russia’s fine for the racist abuse of France’s black players during a friendly in March 2018.

 

It’s not just in the top tiers where punishments feel inadequate. Non-league Padiham FC were fined for abandoning a game against Congleton Town FC in October 2018 after their goalkeeper, Tony Aghayere, was allegedly racially abused. Congleton were fined £5 less than Padiham – even though their supporters were the ones accused of racism. With so much money in football, the consensus at the ThinkIn was that punishments for racism should be more severe. Perhaps banning a club for four matches rather than one would have more impact, and fans would remember it as significant.

Can the Premier League deliver the necessary change and consistency?

Cebo Luthuli, an audience member, asked whether one of the main issues was that those in positions of authority who had the power to implement change didn’t share the diverse backgrounds of those on the receiving end of the racism. If so, how could they possibly understand the emotional effects of racism?

 

We decided to look deeper into this. The boards of Premier League teams are dominated by white members – just 14 per cent of board members at Premier League clubs are BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic)/non-white. There are no black board members at any Premier League club. This has been highlighted by Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany.

“The issue is a little bit deeper,” Kompany told Sky Sports last month. “I look at boardrooms, I look at mechanisms of power… and I don’t see a lot of diversity in that.

“When you ask for them to come up with policies to change the situation, you wonder whether the constitution of those boardrooms are capable of coming up with the appropriate solution.”

 

And the breakdown by clubs offers a starker view of the trend. BAME/non-white representation almost exclusively comes from ownership: Manchester City with board members from the UAE, Leicester with members from Thailand, and Cardiff City from their Malaysian-Chinese ownership.

This representation does not reflect the league’s players

So if the people at the top are not diverse, how about those on the pitch? We looked at data for each club, based upon the 11 players who have spent the most minutes playing for each team this season. Approximately 41 per cent of these players are BAME/non-white.

 

What’s clear from the graph below is the disparity between those in power and those on the pitch – and perhaps that’s where we should begin.

We know there is a bureaucratic problem with the way racism is reported and then dealt with. Kick It Out has a team of 17 people – but there are only two officers to deal with reporting and recording racism, said Osei Sankoa, Head of Education, in our ThinkIn.

If the authorities want to take racism in football seriously, it must address its priorities. Boards need to be much more diverse – they need to be representative of the teams they run. More resources need to go towards education at the grassroots level. There needs to be a rethink of the reporting process – not making it difficult for players and fans to report incidents. And clubs should face punishments severe enough for players and fans to feel that they can actually report incidents and expect a meaningful response. That’s where Tortoise will look next.

On the cover: Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling allegedly receiving racist abuse from a Chelsea fan (left of Sterling) in December 2018. Last week the case against the fan was dropped after a lipreader told investigators they had insufficient evidence to prove the words shouted were racist.