Discrimination in Football

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:01 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Tom Watson Tom Watson Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 1:01 pm, 11th April 2019

Although we are only halfway through proceedings, Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you remaining jolly and calm.

I commend the Minister for making this particular statement, and I thank her for advance sight of it. I am sure that I speak for those on both sides of the House when I say that we appreciate her personal commitment to tackling discrimination in sport in all its forms. I agree that the vast majority of football fans see racism, homophobia, sectarianism and bigotry as the ugly side of the beautiful game. But hardly a week goes by without an example of discrimination.

We were all shocked by the blatant racism during the game against Montenegro last month. Hearing Danny Rose say after that match that he cannot wait to see the back of football because of racism is deeply depressing, but sadly not surprising. When young players face abuse time and again, who can blame them for wanting to walk away? The bravery shown by those players is commendable, but they should not have to be brave when they are only trying to do their jobs. I agree with the Minister when she says that players should never be punished for walking off a pitch after receiving racist abuse, and I was disappointed to hear that the Wythenshawe Town manager, James Kinsey, has been sanctioned for taking his team off the pitch after alleged racism from a linesman.

I have some suggestions for the Minister to help to battle bigotry as soon as it rears its head. First, stewards can work more closely with police to identify offenders, intervene early and gather good evidence to facilitate arrests and charges. The Ministry of Justice could encourage the Crown Prosecution Service to give football hate speech a higher priority and impose harsher sentences. The Government could increase support for education programmes, such as those run by Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out, both of which have seen cuts as a result of central Government cuts to local government. Let us also be aware that the far right is attempting to infiltrate football again through groups such as the Football Lads Alliance, which marched on London only a few weeks ago, when some of their members were seen giving Nazi salutes.

We should also be aware that the problem is not only on the pitch and in the stands but online and in the media. The Minister mentioned Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who retweeted some of the horrendous racism he receives. Given that so much of the racist abuse directed at players is online, will the Minister explicitly include hate crimes aimed at sporting figures in the online harms consultation?

Raheem Sterling, in my view a hero, has called out the ways in which media portrayals fuel racism, in particular the disparaging way in which a young black player was treated for buying a house for his mum compared with a white player doing the same. Does the Minister agree that there is a problem and that some news outlets need to be more responsible?

It is not just racism. Other types of bigotry, such as homophobia and sectarianism, plague the game. The Scottish Parliament has united in committing £14 million since 2012 to tackle sectarianism on the terraces. Can the Minister match that for English football? Campaigns such as Football v Homophobia are doing great work, but six out of 10 LGBT supporters say they have witnessed homophobic abuse.

The Minister is right that the vast majority of fans abhor discrimination of any kind. A small number of thugs who propagate that vile bigotry ruin football for the players and millions of fans who love the game. We do not always agree on things across the House, but we are in absolute unity on this. Discrimination of any kind has no place in football. I and my team will do everything we can to work with her and her team to drive it out.