ANALYSIS by an anti-racism charity has found a “shocking” 42 per cent spike in incidence of discrimination over the last season of English professional football, highlighting “a lurking pernicious threat”.
Kick it Out said it received 446 reports of discrimination in 2019-20, compared with 313 in the previous season, even as some games were played behind closed doors.
While reports of racism went up by 53 per cent, cases of abuse based on sexual orientation surged by 95 per cent.
A YouGov poll commissioned by Kick It Out also showed that 71 per cent respondents had come across players being racially targeted on social media.
The survey, which covered about 1,000 football fans, noted that about 30 per cent of the respondents had “heard racist comments or chants at a match”.
While 32 per cent of the respondents said they had heard homophobic comments during last season’s matches, 41 per cent of them saw homophobic abuse aimed at players on social media.
“Our reports indicate a steep rise in discrimination reports over the last two years, which reflect the hate crime statistics from the Home Office that show marked national increases over the last four years,” said Kick It Out chair Sanjay Bhandari.
“We know that reports to Kick It Out are just the tip of the iceberg. We only report what is reported to us.”
Bhandari stressed that though the football world “responded positively” to global anti-racism protests, “beneath the surface, hate and division in society remains a lurking pernicious threat”.
“Social media can be a battleground of hate,” he observed. “We need to work together across society to win this battle.”
In July, Crystal Palace winger Wilfred Zaha and Sheffield United striker David McGoldrick revealed that they were racially abused on social media.
McGoldrick posted an “disgusting” racism slur he received on Instagram, with the message: “2020 and this is life”.
Zaha told the media that he was “scared to even look up my direct messages anymore because it could be filled with anything”.
“I don’t even have Twitter on my phone anymore because it’s almost certain that you’re going to get some sort of abuse,” he added.
Bhandari said there was an urgent need for “better regulation and enforcement”, adding that social media companies should be “part of the solution”.
“We need clubs and governing bodies to continue to lobby for change, sanction offending supporters and support law enforcement processes with the provision of evidence,” he said.
“We need players to continue to use their powerful voices. Kick It Out will play its part with campaigning, education and talent programmes that diversify the face of football. But this is everyone’s responsibility. We all need to take a stand.”
Paul Elliott, chair of the Football Association’s inclusion advisory board, said the body had made “huge strides” in boosting diversity and inclusivity, but “we know there is more to be done”.
“We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and, while only participants fall under the FA’s jurisdiction, we investigate all reported forms of discriminatory abuse in English football at every level of the game, and work closely with the relevant authorities to ensure matters are dealt with appropriately,” he added.