By Nadeem Badshah
FOOTBALL authorities must do more to tackle racist abuse at the grassroots and youth level and hand out tougher punishments to players who were found guilty, campaigners have urged.
The Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Football Forum (BFF) revealed players as young as seven have suffered jibes at matches.
It said players had been called the “P-word” and told by some opposing footballers, managers and coaches they should be “blowing things up, not playing football”.
Ahead of the start of the English football season this month, research from the Kick It Out charity found that reports of racism in the game rose by 43 per cent in the 2018-19 season.
And complaints of discrimination among professional players increased by 46 per cent to 313 incidents, while faith-based discrimination soared by 75 per cent.
Nadeem Shan is a PhD student and football coach from Sheffield, Yorkshire, who played at grassroots level for 15 years.
He told Eastern Eye: “A number of times I was called a P*** on the pitch. Players from a white background would say, ‘what are you doing on the pitch?’ you are a terrorist’. It was a big shock.
“I also played six-a-side. Players from a white background would try to intimidate us aggressively. There was quite often racist abuse. I was sent off for retaliating sometimes.”
Shan added: “Players verbally or racially abusing should be banned long-term, be out of the game. We are talking about men here.
“For young players, they should be warned and put on a course.
“Grassroots county FAs (Football Associations) are absolutely diabolical in dealing with these issues. That is why British Asians are reluctant to play at the grassroots level. They are doing nothing.
“Talented players get missed, generations have missed out as Asians tend to play together.”
Shan highlighted the case of senior FA Council member Brian Jones, who resigned earlier this year over a Facebook post that was criticised for being Islamophobic.
He was charged with breaching FA rules and stepped down from the council and the FA’s judicial panel after one of his staff complained about the post involving a picture of bacon.
Sporting Bengal, a grassroots Asian team from East London, walked off the pitch in April after accusing the referee of racism, with the coach even accusing him of saying before the game:
“Your lot are not winning this.”
A recent ITV survey found that 79 per cent of south Asianorigin players had endured racist abuse by either another player, a coach or spectator during the game. And 45 per cent said it happened in the past 12 months.
Yashmin Harun, who is chair and founder of the Muslimah Sports Association, said it was the duty of match officials, club officials and parents to report racism.
She told Eastern Eye: “It is up to the county FAs to ensure a thorough investigation and appropriate action is taken. Unfortunately, we have seen that education courses is not enough and more severe punishment may be required.
“If no action is taken, children will be led to believe that this the normal behaviour of football and those on the receiving end will accept that this is part and parcel of playing football.
“The message has to be that racist behaviour is unacceptable in society and unacceptable in football.
“Football must be an environment of safety first and foremost, and the adults in the game need to ensure that this the environment created.
“Racism needs to tackled from the top-down, but more important, from the bottom up too.”
Eight per cent of the country’s population is Asian, but there are only 12 professional players who are of South Asian origin. There are more than 3,700 professional players in the UK, but only 0.3 per cent are Asian.
Kishan Devani, vice-president of the Liberal Democrats’ campaign for race equality, said: “Sport can be such a powerful tool to break down barriers between people.
“Increasingly, however, our national game is being disgraced by bigotry from the grassroots game and all the way to the top.
“If football is to be a truly inclusive sport, we must demand firmer messages from those in charge. That means strict punishments, including hitting clubs with points deductions and stadium closures.
“Crucially, particularly for children, we need to see greater support for clubs and groups to encourage tolerance and understanding across their own communities.”
A Football Association spokesperson said: “The FA has funded two extra grassroots officers, based at Kick It Out, who work directly with our county FA network as well as grassroots clubs and community groups, partly to encourage and raise awareness of reporting discrimination channels.
“Additionally, we have a robust system in place to ensure aggravated breaches of discrimination are reported by the county FAs to the FA, who oversee all discrimination cases and take the appropriate steps.
“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, our County FA network or via our partners at Kick It Out.”
Chelsea Tops Bad Behaviour List
More than a quarter of football fans have encountered racism during matches, new statistics found in June, with Chelsea having the worst reputation for bad behaviour.
According to a survey conducted by Free Super Tips (FST), a third of football supporters say that they have seen fans of their own club taking part in racism, homophobia, violence and people taking drugs at games across the country.
About 28 per cent of people who attended games claimed that they have witnessed racism at matches. Nearly a quarter of matchday fans (22 per cent) said they had seen supporters being homophobic.
Chelsea FC came top for the most racist incidents experienced by both home and away fans with 17 per cent, followed by Millwall on 13 per cent, Rangers (four per cent), and Liverpool and Celtic (both three per cent).
Jake Apperley, a spokesperson for FST, said: “The survey shows a number of concerning issues that continue at matches across the country.
“Fan experiences at football games are painting a negative picture with a number of Premier League clubs seeing racism, homophobia, violence and drug abuse taking place in the grounds.”