Priti Patel calls for crackdown on racist abuse in football

Priti Patel  (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Priti Patel (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)

UK home secretary Priti Patel on Wednesday (29) issued a call for social media companies to rid their platforms of racism after hearing about the real life impact on footballers who are targeted with racist abuse, both on and off the pitch.

During a visit to Wembley Stadium in London ahead of the FA Cup Final on Saturday, the Cabinet minister offered her backing to the ongoing work of the Football Association (FA) and charity Kick it Out, which is led by equality campaigner Sanjay Bhandari and tackles racism in football.

“We will unite and come together to call out hate and people who hide behind computer screens peddling disgusting racism,” said Patel.

“I have listened and heard about the impact racist abuse and online hate crimes can have on players from the Premier League and grassroots football. Hate crimes are unacceptable and we want to see social media companies act much faster to remove the racist content festering on their platforms,” she said.

The minister reaffirmed her commitment to tackling the issue by bringing forward legislation, which will place a duty of care on social media firms to protect their users from hate crime on their platforms.

There are also plans for an independent regulator, who will have the power to issue penalties against companies that do not fulfil this duty.

Patel stressed that everyone has a role to play in calling out racism and other forms of hatred, highlighting that her goal was to improve diversity wherever possible, including as part of the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers.

“Social media is a magnet for racism because anonymity acts as a shelter for trolls. We all need to Take A Stand against hate and to evict the trolls. They need to see that hate online has consequences in the real world,” said Bhandari.

“We look forward to working with the Home Secretary and the government to better protect players, fans and participants from online hate. We call on the social media companies to play their part,” he said.

The ministerial visit, which included an interaction with FA CEO Mark Bullingham and Chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board Paul Elliott, came ahead of the FA Cup 2020 finale at Wembley Stadium this weekend between London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea football clubs, which is to be held behind closed doors amid the coronavirus lockdown restrictions.

The final has been renamed Heads Up FA Cup final as a result of the involvement of Prince William, who as President of FA has been working to highlight mental health related issues during the pandemic.

“We”re hoping that renaming it is a big enough statement that the UK will show the world, and the football world in particular, that mental health really matters,” said William, the Duke of Cambridge, in his first appearance on a podcast with England footballer Peter Crouch.

“We remain deeply committed to removing all forms of discrimination from across the game, whether that’s on the pitch, in the stands, online or elsewhere. It’s crucial that key stakeholders across football and government work together, along with social media companies, to take positive action in tackling discrimination,” said Paul Elliott.

“It’s great to see the government firmly committed to supporting us in making meaningful change and bringing forward its important legislation on hate crime across social media,” he said.

Priti Patel’s tour also included a roundtable discussion with the Chair of Crystal Palace FC Steve Parish, Sky Sports Presenter Jessica Creighton and Aston Villa player Tyrone Mings, among others to talk about how racism can be tackled in football and diversity promoted within football governance.

During the roundtable it was highlighted that racist abuse was becoming less of an issue during matches, due to the technology available to clubs to better police fan behaviour, however it was now more of an issue online.