Discrimination in Football - Statement

– in the House of Lords at 3:39 pm on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 3:39 pm, 11th April 2019

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made by my honourable friend the Minister for Sport and Civil Society in the other place earlier this afternoon. The Statement is as follows:

“The Government are concerned about the recent rise in racist abuse in football, which threatens to overshadow everything we love about our nationalsport. Last weekend, the English Football League said it was ‘saddened, disappointed and angered’ after a weekend of fixtures were blighted by four separate incidents of alleged racism against players. At the same time, in the Premier League, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha reposted 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. Around 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, here and abroad, has also 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, in particular our young people, tuning in or witnessing 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 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, nobody who goes to games should have to tolerate discrimination of any kind, whether they are playing or attending. 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 we are making all efforts to combat discriminatory behaviour domestically.

I want to put on record that there is some fantastic work being done by many of our clubs to stand up to the challenge of racism. It must also be said that the vast majority of football fans behave impeccably in creating the fantastic atmospheres that are a major part of the experience of watching live football. Equally, 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 grass roots, 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 fine sends out the wrong signal. The FA must review whether its rules and the guidance it gives to clubs is effective in these situations.

Putting a stop to this is a challenge that affects all fans, all clubs, all football agencies, at all levels. The Government are determined to help in tackling this problem. On 25 February I brought all the various administrators, campaign bodies, fan group representatives, players, managers and their representative organisations together for a summit to discuss this issue and collectively decide on what steps must be taken to help eradicate it.

At that summit it was agreed that a number of areas needed to be examined further. These were: 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 football 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, coaching and academy staff are all able to fully engage in their responsibilities to maintain an open and inclusive sporting environment; and finally; initiatives to help increase the numbers of people from BAME backgrounds into football professions beyond playing. Transparency and opportunities in the recruitment process are central to this.

The Government will now work with 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 summer. If we are able to deliver these before then, even better. I want to see change before the next season.

The 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—be it grassroots or at the elite level—is safe, supportive and free of discrimination and intolerance.

The experience of players, staff and fans, therefore, at football games, both home and abroad, will prove the ultimate test of success in this area, but I am confident that the appetite is there to accept this challenge and working in partnership, we will quash this disturbing recent trend of racism across our beautiful game. I commend this Statement to the House”.

Photo of Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales) 3:46 pm, 11th April 2019

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement. I will begin a response and ask some questions by echoing the Minister’s remarks and those in the Statement that honour the remarkable courage of the three players—Zaha, Sterling and Rose—who have stood up for proper values when it is enormously difficult to do so in the environment in which they work. They are young men and their courage needs to be commended.

Secondly, I honour the work of a Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, who, with Kick It Out, has worked so hard for decades to address the questions implicit in the Statement. As a House, we should be proud that he is one of us. He is stepping down from the front line of those responsibilities, but his work has been very considerable.

I note from the Statement the various measures that are taken reactively to incidents that occurred in Montenegro, Chelsea or wherever. Of course, we must frame responses that are appropriate to incidents of that kind. I also note that there is every desire to create conditions and have a discussion with the appropriate people that will try to keep in check the outbursts that we all so much regret.

I have a question for those of us whose responsibilities overlap with the DCMS. We hear that some football club fans are using closed Facebook groups to promote racist ideology. With the publication of the Online Harms White Paper this week, will the use of this type of technology be looked at as it applies to football?

I was responsible for an activity that reached out to and included people from a vast variety of racial and ethnic groups—55 at one time—for a number of years. When I took up my responsibilities in that arena, I noticed that, with all the diversity in front of us, those of us running the show were about half a dozen very white people.

I knew then that a bigger job had to be done if we were to work away at the culture that we seek to change. I set myself a target: to diversify the leadership offered to this group within three or four years. In the end, we brought in a variety of faces from Fiji, Korea, various countries in west Africa and the Indian subcontinent. I noticed and can attest to—indeed, we measured it—the change in the nature of engagement on the part of those who had previously been talked to or over but now felt that they owned the operation.

That leads me to ask my question—which, apart from the Facebook one, is perhaps my only serious one: how do we change a culture? A culture in the support of our national game permits and encourages these subversive activities. I remember having a close association in the 1980s with those neo-fascist groups of hooligans that went round causing trouble at various football stadiums across the land. How do we change a culture and allow a diverse population to feel that it has ownership of this game, rather than it being in the hands of multimillionaires from other places? Seriously, how do we stop black players on the pitch being used, in a sense, as icons, heroes or puppets for people’s own prejudices? There is deep work to be done. We could apply what I have said to homophobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Changing a culture is difficult; in football, that seems to be the number one question to address.

Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. This is one of those happy occasions when there is a great deal of consensus in this Chamber, and possibly across the whole of government, on the fact that we must address this.

We are not talking about a new thing; we are talking about something that many of us hoped was at least in terminal decline. In fact, we are hearing an unpleasant echo of the culture of abuse in football that was a regular part of the cheering of the crowds when I was growing up. I remember being in Scotland when the first black player played in the Old Firm game and Glasgow market sold out of bananas. There is nothing new here—which is probably one of the most worrying things.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. It strikes me that we will have to get co-operation between bodies that, shall we say, cherish their independence very strongly. The Premiership, the Football League and the FA will have to work with government closely and consistently if we are to achieve the identification of those taking care of this. Indeed, the noble Lord mentioned something I had not thought about but should have done: social media. These issues are all related in making sure that things go forward.

When it comes to international groups—club football at the top level is an international game now—we will have to work with our neighbours. I hate to bring discord to the debate by echoing the previous one, but what steps are being taken to make sure that, under any circumstances, we have good links to ensure that someone cannot simply run away from the game until they get to a big international stage and then carry on this activity? If we start with racism, nationalism will not be far behind. Skin colour first, language second; it will happen. What are we doing to identify the problem? As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, pointed out, what are we doing to make sure that anybody who takes action when they feel that they are not being protected will not suffer huge penalties?

The Premiership is one of the biggest invisible earners in this country. Billions of pounds are involved. If a manager feels that his players are under threat and removes them from that environment, what are we going to do to protect him? Ultimately, it will be a manager who will do this, even if an individual player walks off. It will be a manager who has to take the brunt of it, and the club. What are we doing to protect them—what are we doing to work towards it? Until we start to take questions like that very seriously and to make sure that the whole of football—FIFA, UEFA, everybody—works together, we are not going to do this. The Government’s role in this is to co-ordinate that.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My Lords, I am grateful for the comments from both noble Lords. This is something that we will find a consensus on—as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said, there was consensus across the other place on this. We all realise that it is a serious problem that needs urgent attention, and that is what we are going to bring to it. I echo the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, on the courage of the players I mentioned for coming forward and highlighting the issues that have affected them. Equally, the work that the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, has done in 26 years of the Kick It Out campaign has been a tremendous achievement.

On the issue of closed Facebook groups, the noble Lord will remember that on page 31 of the Online Harms White Paper is a list of harms that are in scope. Extremist material is on the list of things that are not necessarily illegal, but are harmful. That is indeed one of the things we are looking at. However, the important thing about the White Paper is not so much whether individual harms are on that indicative list, but the processes that social media companies have to go through to make sure that their users are protected. On the Facebook group, there are issues there, given that it is a private communication channel. The noble Lord will remember that that is one of the areas we are consulting on. It is important to remember that a lot of these things are illegal under the current law. Therefore it is important that the authorities use the current law to deal with them, if they are able to, so that it is not just the clubs themselves.

I completely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, that culture is important. One thing we are doing as a result of the round table we had on 25 February is to bring two working groups together to report before the summer, so that actions are in place before next season. The second working group is looking at some of the issues that the noble Lord was talking about, addressing the fact that, for example, BAME players make up 30% of the playing population, and yet coaches represent 7.6% of the population. We want also to look at new ideas about data collection; at more challenging targets being set; and at having more transparency in recruitment practices and other incentives, to encourage under-represented groups into careers—not just as players but in running the game as well.

Another issue that will be considered is that there is an even smaller BAME proportion among journalists, who are one of the ways in which culture is spread. People who are interested in the game learn about it and consider it through journalism. For example, Raheem Stirling has been critical of the negative perception of BAME players through the media. That is something that we want to address. I agree that culture is important. We are trying to do something about it; we will do so and report back soon.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, mentioned that these problems are not new, and he is absolutely right. We should not forget, however, that there has been a tremendous advance in the last 26 years. That is one of the reasons that we want to move quickly: we are not complacent—especially as Kick It Out has reported that there has been a rise in incidents. That is why we convened the round table and are taking it seriously. We want to take positive steps and make positive recommendations in time for next season.

On international liaison, this morning the Minister for Sport said that she will be meeting officials from UEFA and FIFA to discuss these issues. Lastly, I agree that the sanctions need to be looked at not only in terms of their seriousness, especially for the big clubs, but also whether we have got it right in, for example, fining smaller clubs for taking players off the pitch if they are suffering racial abuse. That is one issue that the working groups will look at.

Photo of Baroness Bull Baroness Bull Crossbench 3:59 pm, 11th April 2019

My Lords, I, too, deplore the acts that have led to this Statement. I would like to draw the attention of the House to an article published in December in the Independent by Jonathan Liew. It talks about two forms of discrimination at play in football, one of which is the violent public acts that we have been discussing, while the other is what he calls an “insidious, unacknowledged bias”. He goes on to list any number of examples of unofficial comments and off-the-cuff remarks, which are often explained away as banter but which, as he says, are on a,

“sliding scale from ‘raise of the eyebrows’ to ‘offence under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006’”.

Research, particularly that from Loughborough University, shows the extent to which processes and practices have impacted on limiting minority access to and involvement in the senior organisational tiers of the game. While the six action points set out in the Statement are absolutely laudable, none except perhaps the one mentioned by the Minister on recruitment procedures really addresses the fundamental issue of institutional bias. Does the Minister agree that there is indeed an issue of institutional racism to be addressed? If so, what steps are being taken on that? Finally, are there any examples of lessons to be learned from other areas of public life in which institutional bias has been tackled effectively?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree with the noble Baroness that institutional bias is often present. It is easy to tackle the overt and obvious instance of racism, but institutional bias is more complicated and insidious. As I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we are trying to deal with that to an extent by seeking to get wider representation and greater diversity not only among players but among the staff and management of football. One of the outputs of the round table is to look at the measures to improve the flow of information through instant reporting and the responses made to players, as well as to encourage positive behaviour and ensure that everyone—match officials, stewarding operations, coaching and, most important, football academy staff—is fully aware of their responsibilities in this matter.

Photo of Lord Hayward Lord Hayward Conservative

My Lords, I would like to ask a question related to the culture in football, but I will go in a slightly different direction. Reference has been made to homophobia. I was the founding chairman of the world’s first gay rugby club. In rugby there is a culture that allows the world’s top rugby referee and a former captain of the Wales rugby team to be openly gay. One of my own club members played in the Varsity game last year and listed his membership of a gay rugby club without any comment being made. That in effect is the culture that has developed in rugby. When we are talking about discrimination, we should not talk only about racism. I admire enormously Raheem Sterling and others, but we should look at the other aspects of diversity. I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, has raised the question of disability as well as other forms of discrimination that the top levels of the Football Association must look at. I shall put forward one suggestion. The World Rugby Museum has a large section devoted to disability, women, gender and sexuality, but I am told that the equivalent National Football Museum has no space for most of these elements. That is the sort of culture to which we have to address ourselves.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I completely agree with my noble friend. We were talking about racism, but the title of the Statement says “Discrimination”—that means discrimination of all kinds. We have taken that on board. Incidentally, a representative of Stonewall was present at the round table, so I absolutely accept my noble friend’s point and we are keen to make progress in that area as well.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I listened to the Minister’s Statement from the Gallery of the House of Commons. Like others, I was impressed by the consensus that existed in the House and by the Minister’s enthusiasm and commitment to what she was saying and what she intended to do. I had a sinking feeling of déjà vu, though, because 21 years ago—almost to the day—the Football Task Force, on which I served as vice-chairman, delivered its report, Eliminating Racism From Football, to the Minister for Sport. The task force had seven objectives, of which the first and most important was eliminating racism and encouraging wider participation in the game by ethnic minorities.

The task force made 14 recommendations directed at the Football Association, local authorities, the professional players’ association, clubs and government. A number of those recommendations have been carried out. Indeed, the changes in the law to which the Minister referred came about as a result of some of the recommendations we made on incitement and football spectators’ behaviour. But the fact that we are now still concerned with racism and that it is not just rearing its head again but in the culture of the game—not in the culture of rugby; I readily accept the point made by the noble Lord—needs to be seriously addressed.

I pay my own tribute to Herman Ouseley—the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley—who was a member of the task force and made a terrific contribution to the report on racism. I ask the Minister to go back to the department and get off the shelf the report we produced in 1998 to see how much of it has relevance today. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the National League and of Level Playing Field. If we had more time, I would talk about disabled access in football, but I will do that on another occasion.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

On that subject, a representative of Level Playing Field was also at the round table.

I take the noble Lord’s point. I will read the 1998 report he referred to again, but I am sure it is relevant. We should be aware that there have been big changes over 20 years, not only in sport and football. You can tell that by looking at some 1980s and 1990s television programmes. It is amazing what was considered normal in those days but, as I said earlier, we are not complacent about this. That is why the Minister for Sport convened this round table at fairly short notice and included representatives of all parts of the game, plus the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and several NGOs involved in discrimination of all sorts. We are determined to take note of the sort of things the noble Lord is saying and deal with them quickly.

Photo of Baroness Taylor of Bolton Baroness Taylor of Bolton Chair, Constitution Committee

My Lords, I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. I remember the start of Kick It Out, as do many noble Lords. It had an immediate impact, and I think many of us thought that that progress would continue and that the success of black players would help counter racism. Alas, that does not seem to have been the case. The Minister said that football does not cause racism, and that is worth remembering, but we have to take on board the lack of leadership from the top in countering racism. That applies to racism, homophobia and many of the problems that exist. The Minister acknowledges that culture is important; I ask him to bear in mind that the leadership of football in this country is a somewhat limited group of mainly white, mainly middle-aged—maybe that is being polite—men. Middle-aged white men dominating the control of that game have not produced the kind of progress that we need in issues of this kind.

There are many other problems in football, as my noble friend on the Woolsack and I know, such as the fit and proper person test and other issues, but the governance of football really needs to be looked at again. I urge the Minister not only to encourage rapid progress along the lines that he has suggested, but to get the Government to look again at whether the governance of football in this country is in a satisfactory state.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I mentioned some statistics about diversity and I completely agree with the noble Baroness. I take her point. It will obviously take a bit longer than some of the other immediate things that we were talking about, but I do not disagree. I particularly agree about leadership from the football authorities. One thing that we are looking at is how leading players can be involved in taking leadership positions. In many cases they have a hero status and can be very useful. They can tell stories from their own experience and several players have already shown great courage in doing that. I take the noble Baroness’s remarks to heart and will take them back to the department to the Sports Minister.

Photo of Lord Young of Norwood Green Lord Young of Norwood Green Labour

My Lords, I too welcome the report and pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley. I want to refer to the part about the problem of the rise in racist incidents at grass-roots level. A couple of paragraphs further down, the Statement refers to bringing together various administrators and campaign bodies on 25 February, but I did not see a reference to schools and colleges. As my noble friend Lord Griffiths said, changing culture is a difficult task. Prevention is better than cure, so starting at an early age is fundamentally important. Involving schools and colleges and also the Department for Education should be a key part of the Government’s strategy.

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

I agree. Certainly, as far as the Department for Education is concerned, relationships education, which is currently in the news and about which there will be a debate in this House, includes things such as treating other people with respect and accepting diversity. So to that extent, this will already be included in the curriculum. But I agree that it is important to start young. It is another area where players themselves can get involved because they can create a tremendous impression on young people. I think we are pushing at an open door. The DfE and other government departments such as the Home Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government fund the charity Show Racism the Red Card, which goes around schools promoting the sort of message that the noble Lord would like to hear.

Photo of Lord Faulks Lord Faulks Conservative

My Lords, a considerable number of the examples that my noble friend gave in the Statement outlining this sad litany of discrimination are already offences under the law. Is he satisfied that there have been and are enough prosecutions? In that context, it would no doubt be said by the police and perhaps by the Crown Prosecution Service that they are considerably stretched in terms of resources. Is he satisfied that football clubs—on the whole not poor institutions—are making a sufficient contribution to this matter?

Photo of Lord Ashton of Hyde Lord Ashton of Hyde The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My noble friend highlights an important point. That is why the police were involved in the round table, as were the Crown Prosecution Service. One thing that the working group will consider is the role that the police currently play in stadiums and how they can work better together with the stewarding of football games to make sure that people who take part in what may well be criminal activity are brought to book.

House adjourned at 4.15 pm.