Discrimination in Football

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:53 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Assistant Whip (HM Treasury), The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 12:53 pm, 11th April 2019

With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on discrimination in football.

The Government are concerned about the recent rise in racist abuse in football which threatens to overshadow everything we love about our national sport. Last weekend, the English Football League said that it was “saddened, disappointed and angered” after a weekend of fixtures was blighted by four separate incidents of alleged racism against players. At the same time, in the Premier League, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha re-posted an online tweet calling him “a diving monkey”. This all happened on the very same weekend that the Premier League’s new “No Room for Racism” campaign was visible at grounds up and down the country.

Late last year, the unthinkable occurred—a banana skin was thrown on the pitch in the direction of a player during the north London derby. At the same time, we saw the abuse that Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling suffered at Stamford Bridge. We all witnessed the appalling scenes of racism directed at several of our England players in Montenegro. Homophobic and anti- semitic chanting, both here and abroad, has been prevalent in recent times. English football is revered across the globe for its excitement and passion. No other sport or country opens its doors and embraces so many different nationalities. We simply cannot have millions of people, particularly our young people, tuning into or witnessing at first hand the type of vile abuse that has been apparent of late—abuse directed at our players and our managers by opposing fans.

Wilfried Zaha, Raheem Sterling, and Danny Rose deserve our respect for speaking out about the abuse that is happening now, but ultimately they deserve our support. They need clear demonstrations that zero tolerance of this behaviour means just that. Be it player, manager or supporter—whether playing or attending—nobody who goes to games should have to tolerate discrimination of any kind. We welcomed the Football Association’s call for UEFA to take strong and swift action following events in Montenegro. However, if this country is going to show the rest of the world that this behaviour is intolerable, we need to ensure that we are making every effort to combat discriminatory behaviour domestically.

I want to put it on record that there is some fantastic work being done by many of our clubs to stand up to the challenge of racism and intolerance. It must be said that the vast majority of football fans behave impeccably, creating a fantastic atmosphere that is a major part of the experience of watching live football. Racism is not of football’s making, but sadly it is being used by certain individuals and groups to spread hate. This extends to the grassroots, with Kick It Out reporting a rise in racist incidents at this level too. It cannot be right for clubs to be fined for players taking action and walking off the pitch if they are receiving racist abuse. It is vital that players are supported. This type of fine sends the wrong signal. The FA must review whether its rules, as they stand, and the guidance it gives to clubs are effective for use in these situations.

Putting a stop to this is a challenge that affects all fans, all clubs and all football agencies, at all levels. The Government are determined to help in tackling this problem. On 25 February, I brought many of the various administrators, campaign bodies, fan group representatives, players, managers and organisations together for a summit to discuss this issue and collectively decide on what steps they must take to help to eradicate it. At that summit, it was agreed that a number of areas needed to be examined further.

There were six initial areas: first, to review whether football’s current sanctioning regime goes far enough and, if not, what more is needed to act as a deterrent to this type of behaviour; secondly, to ensure that the partnership between football authorities and the police is close enough to improve the identification and sanctioning of offenders at matches; thirdly, to ask whether we give enough support to stewards and whether we can improve their capacity to deal with discrimination consistently throughout the leagues; fourthly, whether football can improve the information flow of incident reporting on the pitch, and support players; fifthly, how we can double down on efforts to ensure that match officials, stewarding operations and coaching and academy staff are all fully able to engage in their responsibilities to maintain an open and inclusive sporting environment; and finally, initiatives to help to increase the numbers of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds into football professions beyond playing, with transparency and opportunities in the recruitment process absolutely central to this.

The Government will work with those key groups to deliver clear, tangible actions in the areas I have just described. My intention is to announce these in partnership with football before the end of the summer. If we are able to deliver them before, even better. I want to see change ready for the next season.

The ongoing cross-Government sport strategy “Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation” seeks to ensure that access to sport is equal for all. It is vital that the atmosphere and environment in which sport and physical activity take place in our communities, whether at grassroots or elite level, are safe, supportive and free of discrimination and intolerance. The experience of players, staff and fans at football games both home and abroad will prove the ultimate test of success in this area. I am confident that the appetite is there to accept that challenge, and by working in partnership we will quash this disturbing and ugly recent trend of racism across our beautiful game.