I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern that levels of discrimination across sport remain unacceptable;
considers that a combination of tougher sanctions against offenders, action by social media companies and better education are key to driving discrimination out of sport;
and calls on the Government to hold social media companies to account on this issue.
I would like to begin by congratulating England and Scotland’s women’s teams on a fantastic match on Sunday. It was great that the match was the UK’s most watched women’s game of all time, and I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing the English and Scottish teams the best of luck for the rest of the competition.
I wholeheartedly offer them my support. I was a keen cricketer as a young woman and am a huge fan of the game. Growing up—[Interruption.]
I expect that the hon. Lady is as keen on my speech as she is on cricket.
Growing up, I was one of the sportiest people in my school. I would give everything a shot, whether that be on the football pitch, the cricket field, a dojo or the athletics track. Why? Because I enjoyed it—the togetherness, the opportunity to create new friends and the bringing together of communities, teaching young people the positives of good physical health. I even did a BTEC in sport and physical recreation.
The shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Tom Watson, can attest to the incredible benefit sport can bring to people’s mental and physical health. By his own admission, 18 months ago he would have struggled to climb up a step-ladder, yet last month he summited Snowdon.
There is a direct link between good physical health and strengthened mental health, but there is a worrying side of sport, which brings us here today and is plaguing the games we love—namely, discrimination. Discrimination, wherever it occurs, in whatever format, needs to be rooted out and eradicated. In football, if the abuse directed at players on pitches in this country and elsewhere is not stamped out, it will send a worrying message to the next generation of stars and spectators.
Great strides have been made in the fight against racism in recent decades, but we have seen a worrying trend this past season. Alarm bells are ringing. We were all shocked by the blatant racism experienced when England played Montenegro in March, where sustained racist chanting was aimed at England’s black players.
I thank my hon. Friend for her excellent speech. Does she agree that the Football Association and, indeed, the Premier League have a duty of care not to send British players to play on pitches in countries where they will be subject to significant racial abuse; that the sanctions enforced so far have not been sufficient; and that we need to do much more to ensure that British football players can play the beautiful game without being subject to unacceptable abuse?
I thank my hon. Friend for her very important intervention. I work very closely with the Premier League and the Football Association, and I know that they take racism and the treatment of fans and players extremely seriously. However, we all have a collective responsibility to ensure that this blight on our beautiful game is stamped out. My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue.
Callum Hudson-Odoi’s international debut for England should have been the proudest moment of his career to date, but he talked afterwards about hearing monkey chanting throughout the match. Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose also bravely spoke out, calling on world football’s governing bodies to do more. Montenegro was fined €20,000, which is a measly figure, given how much money we all know makes its way through the football ecosystem every single month.
I am sure that many in this House will agree that this problem is not just experienced by England when they play away from home. There is a deep problem on our own soil as well.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent case for the need to tackle discrimination in sport. As well as racism, I am sure she is aware of homophobia, so will she join me in celebrating community football teams, such as the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender-inclusive Bristol Bisons and Bristol Panthers in my constituency, as well as anti-racist community football teams, such as the Easton Cowboys?
It gives me great pleasure to congratulate the Bristol family mentioned by my hon. Friend. I will address homophobia later in my speech. She is absolutely right that it needs to be given the same priority as racism and gender discrimination, so I thank her for her intervention.
This past season, rarely a week has gone by without an incident being reported. Numerous teams walked off pitches in lower leagues. Danny Rose admitted that he cannot wait to see the back of football because of the abuse that he has been subjected to. Wilfried Zaha highlighted just some of the truly awful tweets he receives, including one branding him a “diving monkey”. The #Enough campaign and subsequent social media boycott organised by the Professional Footballers Association saw players, pundits and organisations take a real stand against the abuse they receive. In a piece of tragic irony, however, some participating players even received racist abuse during the boycott itself. I know that the Premier League, the English Football League and the FA all feel very strongly about this issue.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Many of us joined sportsmen and women across our country in the 24-hour social media boycott to express our solidarity, and to show our disgust at the amount of racism online. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government are not doing enough to hold social media companies to account? They need not only to work with social media companies, but to show solidarity with organisations such as Show Racism the Red Card, which lead the way on this.
It is almost as though my hon. Friend had read my speech! He is right about the sterling work of Show Racism the Red Card, which works tirelessly in schools to ensure that racism is rooted out from the heart, where it never deserves to see the light of day. Kick It Out has also worked for many years to eradicate that blight on our beautiful game.
Sadly, discrimination in sport, as in society, also extends to gender. Now retired from the pitch, former Arsenal and England player Alex Scott is a successful and respected TV pundit. Despite 140 caps for the England women’s team, multiple FA cups, several premier league titles and a Champions League trophy, Scott is still subject to intense sexist abuse. Alex Scott has said that she receives sexist insults online every single day.
Outside the pundits’ box, things are hardly better. In March, The Daily Telegraph surveyed more than 300 elite sportswomen from 20 sports and found that, shockingly, more than a third had been subjected to sexist comments from fans or social media, more than half had been the victim of gender discrimination and almost a third said that they had suffered sexual harassment.
When I called out an incident of sexism aimed at a female BBC reporter, in one day alone, I received 1,000 abusive tweets, including one from a former footballer and pundit who still presents on the radio today. He said, “Imagine being offended by it,” then called me an expletive. Other colourful tweets directed at me included: “Get a grip, woman”; “Get a life, silly girl”; “Tell her I’d give her a slap”—another expletive—and then a threat that I might get a slap; and “Shut your mouth and get back to the kitchen to make my tea”. I am rather good at making a cup of tea, particularly a builder’s brew, but I have no desire to get into any kitchen and make a cup of tea for someone directing social media abuse at me. Those tweets remain online today.
The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech and I congratulate her wholeheartedly on bringing such an important issue to the Floor of the House. On social media abuse, does she share my shock that, when I was at the Women’s World cup at the weekend, supporting Scotland, I took a clip of a celebration by a female footballer on my iPad while watching one of the other matches, posted it online, and FIFA almost instantly got in touch with Twitter and had it removed? Does the hon. Lady agree that it is incredible that social media companies take copyright issues much more seriously than abuse?
I thank the hon. Lady, whom I will call a friend and a teammate—I will explain shortly—for her intervention. How can it be that she was requested to remove her clip, yet millions of pieces of abuse directed at many Members of the House, let alone the wider public, remain online?
If elites of the sporting world are experiencing such prevalent sexism, one can only imagine how much worse the problem is at the grassroots. Fortunately, one area of the grassroots that I can vouch for is the women’s parliamentary football team. I would like to take the opportunity to give a great big shout-out to my football colleagues, who are some of the finest women I have ever played alongside. As our recent match against Crawley Old Girls showed, it does not matter what gender or age people are, or indeed what party they represent or which newspaper they may write for, sport is a uniting force.
Back pitch-side, Sol Campbell, with his hugely successful Arsenal and England career, also had impressive form in his first managerial role. Taking on the role of manager of Macclesfield Town in 2018, the Silkmen were rooted at the bottom of League Two and five points from safety. Under Campbell’s leadership, Macclesfield pulled off the great escape and stayed up with a last day draw against Cambridge United. All of that was not enough to protect him from discrimination, however, with audible homophobic chanting recorded by several fans during a January game between Macclesfield and Cheltenham. The FA is investigating and I hope those responsible face appropriate and harsh consequences.
A titan of a different sport, our very own Gareth Thomas, played rugby for Wales 100 times and is the second-highest try scorer for his country. In December 2009, he courageously became the first openly gay professional rugby union player.
Sadly, in November last year Thomas was viciously attacked just for being gay. Showing the immense strength of his character, however, Thomas chose to pursue restorative justice against his attacker. He made a full recovery, but the incident is a reminder of the barriers LGBT sportspeople continue to face, barriers that need not be there and must not be there.
On homophobia in sport, does the hon. Lady agree that it is frankly ridiculous that we have countries such as Russia and Qatar holding international competitions like the World cup, when they persecute LGBT people and have seriously dubious human rights records? If we want to send a really strong message, we should not be allowing such countries to hold very important competitions.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, articulated perfectly as usual. She is absolutely right that no international competition should be held anywhere where fans, players, coaches and the wider public at large are persecuted for being of a minority group.
It will surprise no one in this Chamber that the discriminatory views I have outlined are plaguing social media platforms. This abuse is mostly left unpunished on social media. Racists, sexists and homophobes can leave awful comments, but without the use of specifically harmful phrases the algorithm does not notice how discriminatory those posts are. These comments would be indefensible in a court of law and indefensible in front of an employer, yet they go unpunished on social media. With social media, it is direct and it is personal. I know that many Members in the Chamber have themselves experienced abuse on social media. We use Twitter daily and not just for our work. We scroll through when we wake up in the morning, while we travel to work or are on a tea break. When something hateful is directed at us, the pain and fear runs deep. It is personal, it is disgusting and it is wrong.
For our sportsmen and sportswomen, who often carry millions more followers than the average MP, the abuse, and the pain that is felt, is magnified. Faceless accounts are run by bullies in bedrooms, sitting in their underpants, where an attacker can keep their anonymity and post vile replies to tweets. These people can be identified, but only through a police investigation. We want a system introduced where this information is sent to our sports’ governing bodies and clubs, so that offenders can be banned from attending matches and sporting events. To be clear, a minority of fans partake in homophobic, sexist or racist chanting and it is important that we do not tar all fans with the same brush.
I thank my hon. Friend for the fantastic points that she is making. I want to emphasise her last point: it is wrong to tar all fans with the acts of a few. British football—indeed, English football, which I am more familiar with—has come a long way since the ’60s and ’70s, when homophobic, racist and sexist abuse was more common in stadiums across the country.
As an avid football fan who stands on the terrace alongside many other fans, I always feel very welcome. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we have come a long way, but we have not come far enough. We need to stamp out any form of discrimination that makes any fan—even one—and any player—even one—feel unwelcome and as though there is not a place for them enjoying the sport that they love on any terrace in our country.
There is another form of discrimination relating to the second largest team sport played by black and minority ethnic people, marginalised communities and 11 to 15-year-olds: basketball. Basketball is hugely underfunded and under-supported. It is a sport played by the majority of black people in this country and it would take just £1 million a year to support it at elite level. Other sports played in posh public schools are hugely supported, so is it not a form of discrimination in sport that a sport played by our urban youth and black people is not supported but those played in the top public schools are?
Basketball has no greater advocate than my hon. Friend, who makes very important points that I hope are heard across the House about the importance of making sure that no child is discriminated against in their life in relation to achieving their full potential in whatever their endeavour is, whether that is academic or about exercising their sporting prowess. We need to make sure that every single child, every single young person, and every single anybody who wants to have access to sports and fulfil their potential is able to do so.
We must recognise the work done by governing bodies, clubs and supporters’ groups across all sports to combat discrimination. Furthermore, I am clear that the only way to make progress on this is by involving fans’ groups and giving fans a seat at every table. Fans are the beating heart of sport and sport enjoyment. With the far right on our doorstep, let us be aware of their attempts to infiltrate football and other sports. Let us ensure that we are brave in speaking up against them. When combating the far right, education is an extremely effective tool. Without the understanding of a deep-rooted issue, without realising the connotations behind a particular chant, innocent fans can get caught up in unsavoury actions. When there is a deliberate instance, however, of hate speech, whether that is on the terraces or on Twitter, the Ministry of Justice should be encouraging the Crown Prosecution Service to prioritise these cases and seek the harshest possible sentences.
We on the Opposition Benches, and I hope all of us in this House, want to live in a country where differences are welcomed—not just accepted, but wholeheartedly welcomed. I believe that there is no greater unifier than sport. Let us send a clear message from this House today that discrimination in sport will not be tolerated.
Let me begin by thanking Dr Allin-Khan for tabling the motion and for the way in which she opened the debate. As she says, the motion should unite us as sport does, and the Government will support it this evening. Sport should represent society at its best. As she says, it should bring us together. It should be a forum for fair competition, where anyone, regardless of their background, can test themselves against their peers. It should offer a chance for anyone to join a like-minded community, where it is the colour of their shirt that matters, not the colour of their skin.
Discrimination and racism run counter to all these things and, if we allow them to creep into sport, we will lose what makes sport so inspirational for so many people across the world. Like Members from across the House—the hon. Lady mentioned this—I was appalled by the racist chants directed at England football players in Montenegro in March. International competitions should bring cultures and countries together and we should see meaningful sanctions for the culprits when they are used to spread hate.
The United Kingdom has been a leading voice on this globally and we will keep making that case to international governing bodies. If we are going to make that argument, we also need to make sure that we are doing whatever we can to combat discriminatory behaviour at home. I have been just as appalled by reports of discrimination in domestic and grassroots sport.
It is true that over the past few decades there has been much work to combat discrimination and create a positive and welcoming atmosphere in our stadiums. The Football (Offences) Act 1991 has helped to tackle discrimination in football. Stadiums are now better equipped with CCTV, helping real-time identification of discriminatory behaviour if it occurs. However, unless we continue to root out discrimination in all its forms, we will always face the risk that it might return. In recent months, we have seen a series of unacceptable incidents in English stadiums that threaten to set back the progress we have made. Whether they are a player, a manager or a supporter, no participant in sport should have to tolerate discrimination of any kind.
Our sporting competitions are admired across the globe for their excitement and passion. Players of over 100 nationalities have played in the premier league since its inception. Our rugby premiership is broadcast to over 200 countries and to over 170 million homes worldwide. If viewers from around the globe, including young people, are witnessing images of discrimination in our stadiums, it shames us all and we cannot stand for it.
Many sports clubs have initiatives to promote inclusion and diversity in the local community, and we should commend them. We are also seeing many of our top sporting icons acting as role models—not just through their sporting prowess, but through the way they have faced intolerance and bigotry head-on.
Three lines later in my script, I was going to do so, but I am happy to do it now, and the hon. Lady is absolutely right. I think it is hugely significant when the captain of the England cricket team is prepared to stand up against this kind of abuse—because it is abuse, not part of the game of cricket—and call it out in the way that Joe Root did. We should absolutely recognise him for that, just as we should recognise Raheem Sterling, Nicola Adams, Danny Rose and so many other elite athletes for the dignity they have shown in the face of appalling provocation.
Discrimination should never be seen as an occupational hazard. After all, for sportsmen and women, our arenas and stadiums are their place of work, so they cannot be left to deal with this alone. Nor can they be expected just to put up with it in a way that nobody else would be expected to at their place of work.
There has been a widespread debate about the best way to respond to discriminatory abuse from spectators during a match. My view is that, if players decide they want to stay and respond with their skills on the pitch, we should support them in that and have huge respect for their resilience and professionalism. However, I also strongly believe that players at any level should not suffer any disadvantage, penalty or sanction if they choose to make a stand and walk off the pitch. We should respect those decisions, too.
Football has a protocol in place that advises referees to stop, suspend or abandon a match if discriminatory chanting takes place, and it should be followed. Football authorities must also give serious consideration to what sanctions are needed if clubs fail to demonstrate zero tolerance, whether that means significant fines, stadium closures or points deductions.
Partnerships across sport and across civil society are vital if we are to address this issue, because eradicating discrimination from sport is a challenge that affects all fans, all clubs and all governing bodies. The Government are supporting a number of different anti-racism initiatives, including the Premier League’s No Room for Racism, Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out campaigns, all of which have achieved much in this area.
We recognise that other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia, antisemitism and sexism, can be prevalent in sport, so we are working with a number of bodies, including Stonewall, Maccabi GB and Women in Football, to ensure that all discriminatory behaviour and cultures are challenged in local, national and international sport. We are bringing together everyone with an interest to discuss a way forward. In February, the Minister for Sport and Civil Society brought together administrators, campaign bodies, fan representatives, players and managers for a landmark summit. It was agreed that there was a number of ways in which improvements could be made, from support for match stewards to improving incident reporting. Only through the combined efforts of local police forces, clubs and stewards will these offences be picked up and dealt with in the appropriate manner. We are planning to announce a series of next steps before the end of the summer.
I certainly do agree. It is important for more women’s sport to be broadcast. I think that we are taking steps in the right direction. The England-Scotland football match—I am sorry to remind Hannah Bardell of it; I will not mention the result—was watched by about 10% of our population. It is important for us to get the message across to broadcasters not just that broadcasting women’s sport is the right thing to do but that, if they broadcast it, people will watch it.
I am happy to congratulate England on their 2-1 win, although I have to say that it was a very dubious penalty.
The Secretary of State speaks positively about the action that we should be taking on homophobia and discrimination in sport. I want to share something with him. I ask Members please to forgive me for the language; it is not mine.
Earlier, I called out someone who had tweeted a colleague of mine, saying:
“Is it wrong that I’m watching women’s football for a possibility of tits and fanny?”
I responded to that on Twitter and received this response from another unfortunate man who appears to be a football fan:
“People like this exist cause women’s fitbaw is absolutely dug shite and the only point in substituting real fitbaw for this pish is the hope of a decent swatch…it’s true and if you dispute it, you like men…there av said it”.
I will be reporting that homophobic, discriminatory tweet to Twitter. I hope that it will take swift action.
Order. Of course I wanted to hear the hon. Lady’s intervention, but I have found room for her to speak later, because I think that she can make a very important contribution. I would sooner she did that in a speech, rather than trying to make an intervention into one.
I agree with the hon. Lady. Not only is that offensive, but it is wrong. I watched that match. It was a good game of football. I think that sports fans—real sports fans—will have enjoyed it, and I think that more of them should have the opportunity to do just that.
The summit in February also highlighted the fact that one of the strongest ways in which to promote diversity and inclusion in sport is to give more opportunities to those from under-represented backgrounds. That applies at all levels, whether it means ensuring that we have representation for top-level coaching staff or ensuring that young people from all backgrounds have an opportunity to take part in their favourite sports.
I welcome the English Football League policy to make sure BME first team manager candidates will get additional opportunities to be considered for roles at the highest levels. Sport England has also been investing £2 million each year to increase the number of qualified coaches in the game, with a particular emphasis on supporting bursaries for BME coaches. And through our sports governance code launched in 2017, we are aiming for greater diversity on the boards of our national governing bodies not just because it is the right thing to do but because diversity of thought leads to a higher quality of decision making. If our governing bodies are to fully reflect the communities they represent, we need to make sure they reflect the make-up of our society.
Let me say something about the role of social media. Social media has given many of our favourite sporting stars an opportunity to communicate directly with their fans. However, it has also created new avenues for abuse, where people can send vile remarks to top players, leading to some sportspeople closing their accounts and deciding to step away from social media for good. It should be an immense sadness to us all that professional footballers felt the need to boycott social media for 24 hours to protest against the toxic atmosphere that they experience on these channels. If we surrender our online spaces to those who spread hate, abuse, fear and vitriolic content, we all lose.
Our recent “Online harms” White Paper was a world first, setting out the steps we are taking to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. We set out how we will create a new duty of care establishing that companies have a responsibility for the safety of their users and must take reasonable steps to tackle harmful content and activity, and that compliance will be overseen and enforced by an independent regulator with significant penalties available to it. Discriminatory abuse should be as unacceptable online as it is in the stadium. The internet must remain free, open and secure, and this Government will continue to protect freedom of expression online, but we must also take action to keep our citizens safe, especially those who face bigotry and discrimination online.
We are hosting some important sporting events over the next few years: the cricket World cup, the netball World cup, Euro 2020 matches and the Commonwealth games in Birmingham, aside from the competitions already mentioned in this debate and many more.
Including of course the rugby league World cup.
Spectators will be visiting from far and wide, and viewers will be tuning in from across the world. We have these opportunities to demonstrate, just as we did during that summer of 2012, our nation at its best—hospitable, inclusive and welcoming to all—and to show the world that we reject racism in all its forms. We know we have further to go but I believe that, as the hon. Member for Tooting said, sport is fundamentally a force for good: it brings us together; it can improve physical and mental health; and it can provide valuable leadership skills and promote social integration. We need to face down racism and discrimination together and show that it cannot be tolerated in any sport, at any level.
I am delighted to take part in this evening’s debate—and for a change I really do mean that! Like many in the Chamber and millions across the UK, I know that sport, as a participant, a fan or even officiating, is a huge force for good—although my Paisley rugby club teammates will find that last point a little bizarre given that my treatment of referees was more akin to that in football than in rugby. None the less, we appreciate everyone who gets involved, and I too want to wish Scotland and England all the very best in the women’s World cup, particularly Shelley Kerr’s Scotland squad. I was delighted to be present on Sunday to watch the game and congratulate the team on its fantastic second-half performance—indeed, second-half victory; if it had not been for a dodgy VAR decision in the first half we would have had a point out of the game, so it was a moral draw. I wish the team all the best for Friday; I am sure the players will take care of business and get back to winning ways.
For participants, sport promotes the benefits of teamwork and discipline and keeps us fit and healthy—or it should do—both physically and mentally. For players and fans, it brings us together socially. In short, sport unites us as people, regardless of background or beliefs—or at least it should do. The vast majority of the time, the benefits I have just outlined hold true, but occasionally, and in some places more than others, ignorance and hate rear their ugly heads. Whether it is racism, homophobia, sexism or bigotry, in sport we generally find that it does not matter to the type of fans who mete out this outdated and abhorrent abuse. The abuse is interchangeable, and it is directed against the “other”—the person or player who is different from them. These Neanderthals think that because it is sport, people are fair game.
Sport must be an inclusive environment so that everyone, regardless of creed, colour sex or religion, can come together without fear or prejudice. That being said, this is not sport’s problem alone. The problem is still far too prevalent in our society and, far from decreasing, it is actually on the rise in our public discourse. As has been said, we have only to spend five minutes on social media to see the nameless and the gormless throwing racist, sexist and homophobic taunts, knowing that there will be no repercussions for them. The Rangers captain, James Tavernier, recently posted a screenshot of abuse that he had been sent—I will not read it out, but needless to say it includes the N-word—and the Rangers keeper, Wes Foderingham, was called a “black prick” on Instagram last year. It is not just on social media that the abuse takes place. The Celtic winger, Scott Sinclair, has been targeted a number of times by mindless idiots who have used racist monkey chants and called him a “black bastard”. A banner placed on one of the summer bonfires in Belfast read “Scott Sinclair loves bananas”. It is clear that we still have a very long way to go.
Justin Fashanu, a former player at my own club, Airdrieonians, was both black and gay, and the amount of abuse that he received might be one of the reasons—just one of the reasons, because this is almost a double-edged sword—that even these days there are no openly gay footballers. Does my hon. Friend agree with me on that, and will he place on record our immense gratitude to Justin Fashanu, who went through such a torrid time? I hope that he will pave the way for more footballers to have the comfort to come out.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention, because I have spoken about Justin Fashanu’s contribution before. The abuse that he received was shameful and it shames me. I remember that abuse very well as I was growing up. He did a fantastic job, and it is a shame that the abuse he received has led to the current situation where we do not have any players who are out and proud in the game.
I have said that racism is societal, and it stands to reason that it can and will present itself in all sports. Lewis Hamilton faced it in Spain a decade ago, and it took a decade of dominance by Tiger Woods to break down the barriers in the world of golf, in parts of the US at least. We should not be too pass-remarkable about these things over here, however, given that it is just in the past year or two that some of our own prestigious golf clubs have opened their doors to women.
On racism, Anthony Joshua has said:
“Our parents’ generation has been sleeping”.
He also said:
“If someone is racist to me as a boxer, my natural instinct would be to punch him in his face and kick him while he’s down. But what I am going to do is to speak to you about who I am, where I’ve come from and what my lineage is about. I want to show you why the names and the slurs that you call me have no relevance to who I am as a person.”
That is real leadership from an inspirational individual—despite his recent defeat.
We have also seen leadership in football, as it is in football that we have seen racism far too often of late. I think we all praise the reaction of players such as Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose to their abuse. Their resolve and articulacy in calling out not only their abusers but the authorities for their meek reaction to abuse itself have been fantastic, but they must be better supported by bodies such as UEFA, which all too often issue paltry fines that amount to a pittance in the modern game. That also goes for the FA, the SPFL and the football league, all of which need to step up to the plate and address the issue.
As have I said, it is not just racism that is a problem. According to an EU-wide report, nine out of 10 LGBT+ people said that homophobia and transphobia were a problem in sport. Of those currently active in sport who had had negative experiences in the past 12 months, 49% of cases involved abuse that had come from their own team-mates, while 36% of cases involved abuse from members of the opposing team. That is why movements such as the Rainbow Laces campaign are so important in making sure that our game is accessible to all. No one group of people owns the game. However, a bunch of politicians—albeit ones making good and consensual speeches—condemning this abuse will do absolutely nothing unless it results in action by the authorities. We need more preventive action, yes, but we also need more punitive action to punish offenders.
Discrimination has no place in sport, and the SNP Government in Scotland are determined to tackle it. Sport is an integral part of Scottish society and, as such, it should reflect society. In December 2017, the Scottish Government published their race equality action plan, outlining more than 120 actions that they would take over the course of the current Parliament to secure better outcomes for ethnic minorities in Scotland. There is no place for racism in our vision for Scotland, and the race equality framework has been developed with an understanding of the urgent need to avoid and eradicate institutional racism wherever it is found. The action plan shows that our leadership is advancing race equality and builds on the race equality framework was published in March 2016.
However, advancing equality is not just the job of Government alone. Everyone in society must play their part in removing the barriers facing our minority ethnic communities. I have spoken before about the great work of Show Racism the Red Card, and recent high-profile instances of racism in the game fly in the face of the fantastic work that is done such by organisations. Sadly, despite football swimming in money—in England at any rate—a relatively small amount is spent by the game on such initiatives. That needs to improve.
Show Racism the Red Card uses the role-model status of professional footballers to combat racism through education, and it has been operating in Scotland since 2003. As well as developing anti-racism education programmes, it produces a number of educational resources, including short films featuring interviews with professional footballers to be used in conjunction with the education pack and activities in classrooms and outside of school. Such programmes need our support, and the Scottish Government have invested over £214 million since 2007 to promote equality and tackle discrimination.
Some progress had been made, but there is no doubt that problems remain in football. There are still issues with unacceptable conduct by supporters, particularly with sectarianism. The Scottish Government help to tackle sectarianism in the game in several ways, including direct funding to organisations and football banning orders. The Scottish Government have been engaging with the football authorities, leading clubs and other key stakeholders on this issue. As a result, new rules and guidelines on unacceptable conduct were introduced, and data on such conduct is now being collated by the SPFL and the Scottish FA for the first time, which is surprising to those of us who grew up following the game in Scotland, but it is progress none the less.
The Scottish Government will also introduce a new hate crime Bill and have just concluded a consultation on what should be included, a full analysis of which will be published imminently. The Scottish Government are also undertaking a full consultation on the findings and recommendations of the working group on defining sectarianism in Scots law. We recognise that legislation is not enough in and of itself to build the inclusive and equal society to which we aspire, but it forms the basis of understanding what is not acceptable in society.
While clearly a much smaller problem than it used to be, sectarianism still exists and is culturally and inextricably linked to football in Scotland. The question, “What school did you go to?”—which essentially means, “Are you Protestant or Catholic?”—still gets asked, if not as much. I was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic primary school, but I was also raised a Rangers fan by my father. In those days, few kids were bold enough to admit that they were a Rangers fan in a Catholic school—and vice versa, I assume—with maybe three or four at best. Suffice it to say, I was not bold enough to be one of them at the time, so I faked being a Celtic fan for five or six years in primary school before I had finally had enough.
Not only had I had enough of kidding on that I was a Celtic fan, I had enough of both of the teams. I was sick of the sectarian rubbish that I head from both sides, including in primary school, and decided to support my own team, so I became a St Johnstone fan for complicated and convoluted reasons that I will not detain the House with tonight. It has been a long journey, but we have been doing pretty well over the past few years.
I was delighted to be shot of the Old Firm and sectarianism but, although I say that, you can never quite escape it. Following the 1998 league cup final at Parkhead, in which St Johnstone were defeated 2-1 by Rangers, I was attacked on the train home by a group of Celtic fans because St Johnstone “never tried hard enough to beat the huns”—their words, not mine.
As it happens, a few months prior to that, I had been walking home from a night out when two boys, who had been drunkenly singing Rangers songs, started walking with me and asking questions, the first of which was, “Which school did you go to?” I was not daft enough to say the name of the Catholic school I actually went to, but I could not persuade them that I had, in fact, gone to a non-denominational Protestant school. No matter what I said, they did not believe me and it escalated rather quickly into one of them pulling a knife from his jacket. Needless to say, I scarpered as quickly as my legs would take me. I had never been so pleased to have a turn of pace, as I did when I was 18 or 19 years old. I am not sure where that pace has gone, but I managed to get away from those boys.
Things have improved massively over the past few decades in Scotland, but the issue still hangs on in some corners of society. I do not want to end on a negative, and sectarianism, bigotry and racism—call it what you want—is not the taboo it once was. It is now out in the open and is being tackled head on. With the help of organisations such as Nil by Mouth, which campaigns to eliminate sectarian attitudes, and Show Racism the Red Card, Stonewall and many others, and through debates such as this one, we are educating the next generation to be rid of this discrimination whether it be in sport or anywhere else.
I have just been handed an envelope, so I think I need to speak quickly.
I am not sure whether I need to declare this, but I recently became a trustee of the Cornish Sport Foundation, a new foundation that seeks to get to grips with the opportunities of sport and to address the important issues we are talking about this evening. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate on such an important subject, not just because we have a problem that must be resolved but because sport, as has been said, offers a solution.
I do not wish to rehearse the many important points that have been made, other than to say that we should never accept racist or discriminatory behaviour, and we must always work, using sport and whatever other tools we have, to rule out their existence. Sport offers a great tool to unite people and to improve fitness. I remember being at a football match many years ago—it was a long game that had gone into a bit of extra time— and, looking around, someone said, “There are 22,000 people here badly in need of exercise and 22 people out there badly in need of a rest.” This debate has reminded me of that story.
Sport also offers a tool to address inequalities and improve life chances, and I am pleased that the motion mentions the need for education. This will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State or the Minister, but what better example of a place for education than a stadium for Cornwall? That includes Cornish wrestling, or wrasslin, which we will hear about in the Adjournment debate.
I do not wish to diminish or take away from any of the important issues related to discrimination, racism or anything that happens against individuals in some sports and on some sporting occasions. We should never accept that, as I have said.
In Cornwall there is a different type of discrimination, which I will briefly touch on. I am told that Cornwall is the only county without a big sporting arena or stadium. As the Secretary of State said, we should be working to give young people access to sport, partly because of education and all that comes with it—the way that young people grow and develop as human beings. I hope that we can soon resolve Cornwall not having access to that. We lack a stadium, and the Football Foundation has already accepted that, because of its geography, Cornwall does not have good access, is discriminated against in the location of facilities and has not had the kind of money that other parts of the country have enjoyed.
Having said that, even without the facilities or the stadium, Cornwall has a great record. There are of lots of elite sports personalities from Cornwall, and I will mention just a few, particularly because of the work they do.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about a lack of sports facilities, but I know that he has a great coastline and many surfers. Does he agree that we need to see more about minority sports like surfing? Surfing is an up and coming sport that will be in the Olympics next year. In Scotland, 64% of our sports coverage in the media is of men’s sport, and only 2% of print media coverage in the UK is of women’s sport. We need to see a much broader range of sports being represented to break down those barriers of discrimination. Does he agree?
Of course, what the hon. Lady says is right. My entire constituency is surrounded by our immense coastline, as are the Isles of Scilly—it is a great chore for me to have to visit them from time to time! Gig rowing, kayaking, paddle boarding, kite surfing and surfing, which she mentioned, are all fantastic and they are important because they help people to know how to be safe in water. Again, on access and equality, they are expensive sports to do, whereas rugby and other sports provide more access as they can sometimes be much cheaper. However, these things are expensive in Cornwall because people travel great distances, sometimes with their young but talented children, to even get to a decent pitch. They are even driving out of Cornwall from the far west, where I live, to engage, and we need to resolve this.
As I was saying, let me mention a few people who are celebrities in Cornwall. I could mention loads of others and I am going to get in trouble for not mentioning them all. Jack Richards was an England cricketer and he works with me on the sports foundation. Lucy Payne is a kickboxer who is celebrated in my part of the world. Helen Glover is an Olympian, whom Members will know. Jack Nowell is an England rugby player in my constituency. Melissa Reid is a triathlete who has been fantastic in breaking down the barriers that face so many people in sport. Then there is Sir Ben Ainslie, whom we all know. He came to speak to children at the beginning of the 2012 Olympics and just lit up Cornwall when it came to how accessible sports could be.
Let me make the case again on discrimination: sport gives people life chances, so that they know how they can and should support and accept each other, whoever they might be, wherever they might come from and whatever their differences. The right facilities also do that. Sport addresses health inequalities, and it provides the education, fairness and opportunity that we are arguing for. We are talking about celebrating elite Cornish sport and achievement. I welcome the comments the Secretary of State has made today about why it is so important that we make sure that our young people, as they grow, are never in a position where they believe that the kind of discrimination that we have heard about is acceptable. Sport is the tool, and the right facilities can be the tool, to make sure that they never are.
First, may I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for your sterling work over a long time for the rugby league group in Parliament and the sport of rugby league? I am certain that the Secretary of State is going to want to be ensuring that the rugby league world cup gets a great venue for a launch somewhere within or near the Palace of Westminster when it comes again to this country. Perhaps it will be somewhere higher than the Jubilee Room, where we had to welcome the elite of that sport on one occasion. There is nothing wrong with the Jubilee Room, but I think that with the Deputy Speaker’s assistance and that of the Minister, we can do better this time.
I wish to make a few observations and a couple of suggestions about what we can do. I chair the all-party group on mountaineering—indeed, I set it up. The work we have done and the advice we have given, using our skills as politicians—David Rutley has played a huge role in that over the years, as have many other Members—have given both confidence and a bit more expertise to that sport’s governing body, in expanding its scope and in dealing with its traditional bias, which was towards white men, both young and, in particular, elderly, because it is a sport one can participate in. Chris Bonington is still climbing into his 80s; we have great heroes of the sport. The sport has been opened up, and in recent years we have seen its first Asian president, Rehan Siddiqui, and women coming to the fore. Indeed, in the Olympics next year, with climbing and bouldering being a new Olympic sport, many of our medal prospects are young women, such as Shauna Coxsey, who have come up through the sport as it has opened up. It is making sure that it is making explicit efforts in respect of participation. It is making sure that there are paths through and giving resource and priority to opening up access and to encouraging participation, from the base level, with people like me, to the elite level. That is significant and we in the House can play a modest role in assisting that.
I have a bolder, much bigger proposal for the Secretary of State, the Sports Minister and the Government. This is a big one and it is doable. Football is desperately keen to have safe standing, and the Government are considering when and how it could be done. It is clear that the safety case has been proven to people’s satisfaction. Given what has been going on with the abuse of footballers, which is of course far worse at the grassroots level than at the elite level but has been brought to the fore by those prepared to be outspoken—the likes of Danny Rose, Raheem Sterling and other top footballers who are not prepared to take this rubbish any more—the Government could make safe standing in any one stadium conditional on the approval of a specific contract related to an action plan for dealing with discrimination in that stadium. The Government would then have the ability, as would external bodies and governing bodies, and external players in some communities, to hold to account those who run the sport.
If it was a premier league stadium with a capacity of, say, 60,000, a licence from the Government to give the club the ability to do what the fans and clubs say they want, with an agreement on precisely what they will do to deal with discrimination, would be significant leverage. In terms of tackling issues such as spectator abuse of those participating, given today’s technology, with stadiums that sell out tickets and with computerised ticketing and all the new technologies that are already there, that is eminently doable. In other words, do not give them something without asking for a little back, and the price is something to which they say they are already committed. That would be very smart leverage by Government. It would also allow the Government to hold the football authorities—the Premier League, the English Football League—to account for how they deal with these issues. Take the FA: I have raised some of the fines in this place and will not use up time repeating them again, but frankly the poor response to some of the worst offenders is comically bad, and of course that sends a huge message.
Another thing that we in the House can do is recognise good practice. We should try to spread best practice. When dealing with discrimination and racism, I am a strong believer in looking at what may be succeeding and telling others to copy it. Let me give an example from the premier league. Chelsea football club has launched a programme on tackling antisemitism, putting more than £1 million into it. Critically, from the owner, Roman Abramovich, to the chief executive and chair, Bruce Buck, to players such as David Luiz and others, there has been ownership of the programme throughout the club. It is early days, but it is a bold initiative and it is one that the club did not have to do—it has chosen to do it, which is part of its significance.
Let me give a second example. I intend to bring over—they are going to come—what I think is the best example in European football of how to deal with problems among the fan base: people from German football and Borussia Dortmund. Like all German clubs, Dortmund employs fans—they are paid—as fans’ liaisons. They are not elected by the fans; they are chosen because of their expertise, including, explicitly, expertise in dealing with all forms of discrimination. That has been transformative for Dortmund; it has gone from being a club with a big problem to being a club with a small problem that does not tolerate any form of discrimination or abuse. It is about to build a £10 million fans’ centre, which will be a base for education, messaging, and identifying the badge with the values of the club.
Dortmund is the best example, but there are others from Germany. I went to a fairly normal, non-controversial match in Bremen, at which there were 30,000 supporters. The fans threw out other fans for sexist language. Just think about that. Could you imagine that in any sports venue in the United Kingdom? That is way beyond where we are in this country. I am bringing over those Borussia Dortmund fan liaison officers and taking them round the clubs for meetings, hopefully in September. We hope to go to Scotland and to some of the bigger clubs. We will also meet people from the Football Association, and my hon. Friend Mr Betts, who chairs the all-party football group, has agreed to host a meeting of that group for the occasion.
How does the principle of employing fans work when Borussia Dortmund plays an away match with a premier league club in England? Who is looking for the fans who are misbehaving—for the racists? The liaison officers know who those fans are, because they are part of the family; it is their job to know. They know the travelling fans. It is very easy: if an away supporter acts inappropriately—say, shouts racist abuse—they do not get tickets again, so they do not go again. It is relatively easy.
As for the Government’s strengths, other countries would love to have the powers that we have, and our banning orders. Ask the Germans what they would like; they would love the same powers. Banning orders have been there for quite a long time; the Government should refresh them, so that whenever tickets go on sale and sell out, the idiot who is banned from any football stadium—perhaps any sports stadium—in the country will not be going in. They might be able to sneak into a local club in my area incognito, but they become the idiot who cannot go to the game with their peer group. The lesson from that for the rest of the group is huge. Whether banning orders are for a year, five years or 10 years, it is important that they be used. That principle, and the ability to tie this to restorative justice, would be incredibly powerful, especially if club officials from the fan base were specifically involved.
Those are practical examples. I could give others, but those are sufficient, in this time-limited debate. Let us learn from others, but also use our strengths—the levers we have as parliamentarians, and that the Government have. If we did that, we could make a significant dent in the problem, and bring about action to address the frustrations of Mr Sterling, Mr Rose, and the many others receiving this abuse, which, of course, at the grassroots, and in kids’ sport, is magnified many times; that is what I have seen across grassroots football, when I have investigated this issue for the FA, and it is the same in other sports. Good practice, and good examples, spread. We could do more relatively easily, and make significant changes. This debate is great for contributing to that.
I have the unexpected pleasure of responding to this debate.
Sport is a unifying force, a force for good. It has been incredibly moving to hear so much support across the House for something that we all agree is extremely important. We are proud that this House stands together tonight against the homophobia seen at pitches, on stands and at matches, and against xenophobia, racism and sexism.
Hannah Bardell made a great intervention about social media companies, which need to do more. We all agree that they need to be held accountable. It is not okay that for years on end damaging and toxic tweets can remain accessible and online for all to read.
I am glad to hear that the English Football League, the FA and the Premier League promote good behaviour and work to make a stand against abuse. However, I acknowledge the importance of education in tackling that from the bottom up, as well as from the top down.
My hon. Friend Chi Onwurah made good points about ensuring that more is done. In my role, I will continue to push for all governing bodies to do more, and I do not doubt that the Ministers will do the same. I was glad to hear that my hon. Friend Mr Dhesi joined the Twitter boycott to protest against racism targeted at footballers. My hon. Friend John Mann made some bold suggestions and rightly called for clubs to take responsibility. Derek Thomas made some interesting points and gave us the first mention of wrestling this evening.
People know that I am a doctor—it is no secret—and I work on the frontline of our NHS. I see what gang violence does and how it damages our communities and ruins the lives of young people. It is also no secret that I am a boxer in my local community, and I see what sport can do to heal. Sometimes in debates in this place sport is not given the importance that it deserves, compared with issues such as Brexit—that is a fact. That does not mean that it is not of equal importance when we look at the transformative merits it possesses to change lives. I see that. As a humanitarian doctor, I have been in refugee camps where I have seen people wearing Man United shirts. They might not have food or security, but they proudly support a football team. That is something that no one can take away from them: they identify with a team.
Let us talk about communities. I am a Liverpool supporter, and I heard my friend on “The Anfield Wrap” talking about Mo Salah and how he has become such an important and integral part of the Liverpool community, the Liverpool family. He quoted:
“Being Scouse is a state of mind.”
The importance of sport and physical activity cannot be overestimated. I stand here with great pride tonight, joining colleagues from across the House to celebrate that sentiment. We face a time in which our community, our society, is fractured—we have to be honest about that—but let us ensure that there is no room for those fractures to permeate the very thing that does so much to unite us.
We must also understand that discrimination in sport is not just about players on a pitch, or even about fans; it is also about what goes on in the boardroom. It is about understanding that we need representation from all groups at boardroom level—women, people from the black and minority ethnic community, and our LGBT brothers and sisters all need a seat at the table.
Tonight, I hope that everyone present unites with me to say that together we want to stamp out racism, sexism, homophobia and any form of discrimination in sport.
This has been a valuable and important debate as we lay bare how we must tackle racism and intolerance in sport at every level—from grassroots level up to the elite—because this is a truly crucial issue that faces this country. I am sure that, as we heard from Dr Allin-Khan, we are truly united in our determination to stamp out racism and bigotry wherever it rears its head. On what would have been Anne Frank’s 90th birthday, her words are stronger and more compelling than ever—we must never, ever forget where hate leads humanity. Some of the issues that we have touched on bring to life the challenges faced by the sector and by all of us across sport and, as we heard from the Secretary of State, civil society.
Before I continue, I would like to wish Chris Froome well. He has had multiple serious injuries in a crash this evening that could rule him of out of the Tour de France. I hope all is well with him.
Why do we need to get this right? Well, over the next three years, the eyes of the world will be upon us. Indeed, they already are when it comes to the cricket world cup. We have the netball world cup, and Birmingham 2022 in three years’ time. I met representatives of Yorkshire cycling; what is happening in Harrogate this September is very exciting. We have the diving world series and the rugby world cup warm-ups. I am conscious that I should mention the rugby league world cup for Mr Deputy Speaker. We have the Solheim cup and the opportunities that provides for women’s golf. I could go on, because we are absolutely in the right place as regards hosting and showcasing these events.
Let me turn to some of the comments made during the debate. The hon. Member for Tooting talked about the sexism and intolerance seen on social media, particularly with regard to broadcasters and abusive tweets—“getting a slap”. This is just not acceptable, as we heard from Hannah Bardell, who talked with passion, as ever. That view continues to unite us, and we must all strive to work together to stamp it out. I, too, pay tribute to Gareth Thomas and to Justin Fashanu. The ability of players, such as Joe Root, to be out and proud and to speak out, is absolutely vital for their games to thrive. This would not be acceptable in any other workplace, and we will not see it in sport. We will support everybody who rightly calls it out.
In response to my hon. Friend Derek Thomas, sport absolutely can address inequalities. Whether it is an arena or a stadium, the inspirational opportunity provided by getting facilities is vital. I have directed Sport England to work closely with the stadium developers in Cornwall to help them to improve their business case. The significant expertise that we have in this area has been very helpful. I continue to monitor the feedback to make sure that that business case is managed.
John Mann made a characteristically passionate speech. I met him recently, and I know that he is bringing lessons from football around the world to the Department. If we do not get to every single piece of intolerance, including the sexist language that makes families not feel included, then we are absolutely missing a trick. Alongside the Secretary of State, this Government will work to hold the football authorities to account, tackling intolerance but also some of the other challenges that the hon. Gentleman mentioned around the experience of fans, including safe standing. We will keep the House updated on that.
I am very pleased, as ever, to hear from MPs who continue to affirm that there should be zero tolerance of discrimination. I have listened to, and had emails and tweets from, people who want to know that we have a real determination to ensure that sport continues to be welcoming.
There is absolutely no place in football or any sport for racism and race-related crime—I have said that before at the Dispatch Box, and I will take every opportunity to say it again. Bigotry and intolerance cannot be allowed under the cloak of football. It is not right online, and it is not right offline. We do not want it. These are not fans. We will not give the good fans the embarrassment of calling these people that, because they do not deserve it. Our sports clubs and fans continue to embrace diversity and tackle racism. We have heard tonight about Chelsea’s work, and I applaud the work that Brighton have done on tackling homophobia.
We have set out a clear ambition—we heard it from the Secretary of State—for how we will combat all forms of discrimination, whether online or offline. We have a key duty of care in the online harms White Paper, which will require companies in law to take steps to protect users from harm and abuse on their platforms. As the Secretary of State said, it will be overseen and, more importantly, enforced by an independent regulator.
If we get this right, there is everything to gain. We cannot have a situation online that is not matched offline. We know that racism and intolerance is not of sport’s making. We need to ensure that there is no disproportionate opportunity for its impacts to be suffered on the sports field. It is wrong for that to be allowed to happen.
There is much to say about the summit that I held earlier this year, and I will update the House on it soon. I want to finish by making it clear that at the heart of this Government’s sports strategy, “Sporting Future”, is our desire to be at the forefront of equality and fully support a zero-tolerance stance of inappropriate behaviour. I am determined that in any sporting event on our shores, we will be at the forefront of equality. We will be world-leading in the environment that both players and spectators can expect, and we will reject racism, intolerance and bigotry in every single form.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
notes with concern that levels of discrimination across sport remain unacceptable;
considers that a combination of tougher sanctions against offenders, action by social media companies and better education are key to driving discrimination out of sport;
and calls on the Government to hold social media companies to account on this issue.