Thanks to player protests and walk-offs, racism in football is finally being given serious mainstream media attention. Recent events are certainly a step in the right direction and the players involved are to be commended for their integrity. However, whilst these actions have raised public awareness and stimulated debate, they have little impact upon the perpetrators of racist abuse. The conversation is important and may pressure football’s governing bodies to enforce strict anti-racism protocols, but only direct action from fans will make racists afraid to show their faces in football stadiums.
During England’s controversial match in Bulgaria in mid-October, nazi-saluting home fans directed racist abuse towards England’s black players, forcing officials to enact UEFA’s three-step racism protocol. The three steps comprise of: 1. making a stadium announcement asking fans to desist; 2. suspending the match and removing players to the dressing rooms for a period of time; and 3. abandoning the fixture. This process seems reasonable, but given that it has been in place for a decade and has never been used until now, it can hardly be considered to have had any positive impact. In the aftermath of this match, the Bulgarian Football Union have been handed a £65,000 fine and ordered to play two games behind closed doors (one of which is suspended anyway). Not only is UEFA’s proposed penalty insultingly lenient, but it does not punish the individual perpetrators of racist abuse.
Racism in Football: A Little Less Conversation, a Little More Action Please Even Kick It Out, a charity organisation set up in 1993 to challenge racism in football has received criticism from ethnic minorities in the football industry for being ineffective. Rio Ferdinand, Micah Richards, Jason Roberts and Joleon Lescott have all refused to wear Kick It Out branded t-shirts in protest of the organisation’s feeble and inadequate response to racist abuse faced by players.
Over the past few days, it has emerged that an independent review into Kick It Out has found a ‘number of failings’ within the organisation, particularly relating to staff welfare — including an inadequate response to a female staff member suffering a serious sexual assault on a residential trip. Clearly, governing bodies and corporatised charity organisations cannot be relied upon to enforce racism protocols unless they are pressured to do so by players, fans and the wider footballing community. It would be naive to expect the average working class football fan to be as invested in eradicating racism as the anti fascist community — particularly if their priorities are holding down a job, paying bills and feeding their children.
In addition, Tommy Robinson’s parasitic narrative has permeated working class communities to the extent that many now perceive all leftist activism to be a government-backed conspiracy to destroy everything they hold dear in the name of political correctness. Of course, corporate support for social justice movements should naturally be regarded with deep suspicion. However, establishment attempts to popularise impotent liberal identity politics do not negate the value of anti-racism.
Although the majority of football fans aren’t racist themselves, there is general ambivalence towards racism on the terraces. Many view racism as an unpleasant but inevitable part of casual culture and so are unlikely to challenge it in the stands. The thorough unlearning of societal racism is, unfortunately, a long-term project and so more immediate solutions are required to motivate fans to keep their own in check. Ambivalence towards casual racism would soon turn to outrage if, for example, points were deducted from offending teams and their league position suffered as a result.
Fines and stadium bans (if enforced) are simply not enough. Perpetrators of racist abuse should fear verbal and physical confrontation from other fans.