Antisemitism and Other Racism in Football

– in Westminster Hall at 4:30 pm on 22nd June 2022.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 4:30 pm, 22nd June 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered antisemitism and other forms of racism in football.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, albeit on a solemn subject. The prevalence of racism directed at footballers was brought sharply to public attention last year when Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka faced an horrific wave of abuse on social media after the Euro 2020 penalty shoot-out. Former professional footballers, such as Rio Ferdinand, Anton Ferdinand, Lianne Sanderson and Marvin Sordell have spoken movingly to Committees of the House about the torrent of hate to which they are routinely subjected via their social media accounts.

Although much good work has been done to seek to drive racism out of football, it remains a problem in the game, as it does in wider society. I want to focus today on anti-Jewish racism. I feel that does not get the attention it deserves, and that the gravity of the harm that it causes is not fully recognised. I want to pay tribute to organisations, such as Action Against Discrimination, Kick It Out, the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, and to Lord Mann, the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, for all the work they have done to tackle the pollution of our national game.

It would be helpful to list a few of many recent antisemitic incidents connected to football. In January 2021, a vile antisemitic comment was posted online, directed at Celtic’s Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton, following a game against Rangers. In March 2021, a “Happy Passover” message, posted by Aston Villa, received a number of negative and abusive responses. Those comments were deleted, and a further statement was posted by the club, which received 27,000 dislikes. In April that year, the announcement of a proposed super league prompted an outpouring of antisemitic hate on social media, much of it directed at the owners of Chelsea, Manchester United and Spurs. Vile tropes and stereotypes were deployed, and Jews were accused of “ruining football”.

In August, talkSPORT issued an apology after presenters failed to challenge a caller who used an antisemitic stereotype on air in relation to a Jewish figure in football. In November last year, three men were arrested in connection with a social media video showing West Ham fans chanting an antisemitic song towards a Jewish man on a plane. In that same month, a Chelsea supporter was jailed for posting antisemitic tweets, including photos of Auschwitz and a man performing a Nazi salute.

In January this year, an Everton supporter was found guilty of singing antisemitic chants. He was given a football banning order, preventing him from attending matches for three years. In March 2022, a clip was posted on Twitter of a group enthusiastically singing an anti-Spurs song, ending with the words, “f-ing Jew”. In May, two Burnley fans were arrested on suspicion of racially aggravated public order offences, after one of them was videoed making a Nazi salute towards Tottenham supporters during a premier league game.

I am afraid time prevents me from embarking on anything like a comprehensive account of the harassment and intimidation to which Jewish people are routinely subjected at football matches. Those are just some of the more serious incidents, which have been followed up by the media and, in some cases, the police. A very long list of antisemitic episodes in football across Europe is set out in a 2021 report by Lord Mann. He was assisted in that work by 15 young people who are ambassadors for the Holocaust Educational Trust. In the introduction to that report, those young ambassadors emphasise their love of football and their determination to rid it of racism. They state,

“This report must be a catalyst for footballing authorities to recognise that antisemitism is well and truly alive both in and out of the stadium, on matchdays and online, and that consistent action must be taken.”

I hope the whole House will agree with that statement.

Photo of Margaret Ferrier Margaret Ferrier Independent, Rutherglen and Hamilton West

There is no place for antisemitism or racism in sport or society, and stronger deterrents must be in place for both clubs and fans. What does the right hon. Lady make of UEFA’s commitment to review loopholes in its policies for behind-doors matches where games are supposed to be played without spectators as punishment for previous fan behaviour?

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

I totally agree that we need much more serious consequences for racism and antisemitism where it is displayed in football grounds, and the international football associations have a real role to play in delivering that outcome.

I want to highlight some of the positive work that is underway to tackle the kinds of problems I have spoken about. For example, in January 2018, Chelsea football club announced a “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign to raise awareness and educate their players, staff, fans and the wider community about antisemitism in football. In January 2020, it became the first club to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. In December that year, the English Premier League also adopted that definition, and many clubs followed suit. The English Football League and the Football Association did so on Holocaust Memorial Day 2021. In February 2021, Kick It Out, the game’s leading anti-racism body, working with Lord Mann, prepared an action plan to combat antisemitism, which it launched at training workshops in London and Manchester.

This February saw another important development, this time at Tottenham. That brings me to the Y-word. I appreciate that it is a contested term, but there can be no doubt that it is widely viewed as offensive and racist—it is a term of abuse. Since the 1970s, I understand, it has featured in chants by Spurs supporters. The club has indicated that it was initially used as a response to a lack of action taken in relation to antisemitism directed at Spurs fans, so some supporters have historically used the word as a means of taking ownership of a term routinely used to insult the club’s sizeable Jewish following. However, Jewish groups have described it as antisemitic, whatever the context. Its inclusion in Tottenham chants is therefore offensive in itself, and can also trigger antisemitic responses, with consequent harms. As such, following a review of the issue, the club stated that

“it is time to move on from associating this term with our Club.”

It went on to say:

The Club already refrains from engaging with any social media handle or bio that contains the Y-word and we do not permit it being printed on shirts in any official retail outlets or used in any official Club context”,

to which my response would be, “About time too.” I find it somewhat shocking that there could ever have been any question of that term appearing on shirts, or in official retail outlets.

While these various initiatives to root out antisemitism in football are very much to be welcomed, there is clearly much more to be done. The professional game needs to take this issue much more seriously than it does currently. It needs to deploy far more resources to combating antisemitism, holding those responsible for it to account, and making it clear to its supporters that antisemitism is wholly unacceptable. That must include programmes aimed at ensuring supporters understand the issue better and are made aware of the hurt and harm caused by antisemitism. Urgent action is needed to crack down on the online manifestation of football-related anti-Jewish racism.

The Football (Offences) Act 1991 made racist chanting that is

“threatening, abusive or insulting to a person” an offence when committed within football grounds. The police need to take action when those offences are committed. They need to take antisemitic crime in the football arena much more seriously than they do at the moment, and there needs to be enforcement against this kind of behaviour online, as well. In July last year, the Government announced that football banning orders would be extended to cover racist attacks on footballers on social media, meaning online trolls could potentially be excluded from grounds for up to 10 years. The Prime Minister has called on tech companies to step up and take responsibility for what they publish.

The Online Safety Bill is now on its way through Parliament. This world-leading piece of legislation will require the big tech firms to do more to tackle harmful abuse posted on their platforms, both by preventing it in the first place and by taking it down when it appears. Under their new duty of care to users, companies will have to tackle antisemitism and racism on their platforms much more effectively than they do today. Platforms will need to have appropriate systems and processes in place to stop criminals using their services to spread hate, and they will need to respond more quickly than they do currently if someone posts racist comments, whether words, images, emojis or videos.

Companies that fail in this duty of care could face big fines of up to 10% of their global turnover. For major social media operators, that could amount to billions of pounds. I urge the Minister to ensure that the legislation is effective in combating antisemitism online. In particular, big tech companies must be required to address the risk that algorithmic recommendation tools and hashtags can amplify antisemitic and other racist content. Keeping people safe online and dealing with the torrent of hatred to which so many are subjected is one of the defining challenges of our time. The Government must rise to that challenge.

In conclusion, I have campaigned against antisemitism for many years. One of my first ever visits to this Parliament was as a student in the late 1980s, when I attended a lobby to call for Jewish refuseniks to be permitted to leave the Soviet Union where they were subject to discrimination and injustice, and to seek to persuade the Foreign Office to raise that with the Soviet leaders. I was also one of the co-authors of the 2006 report of the all-party inquiry into antisemitism. That ground breaking piece of work led to real change, including an obligation on all police forces to collect statistics on antisemitic crime.

I took part in both the recent debates on antisemitism in the House and the two public protests in Parliament Square denouncing the incidents of anti-Jewish racism in Labour. I find it deeply disturbing that this toxic prejudice is still present in our society. It is distressing that that form of racism is directed against a community for which I have such a high regard and which plays a hugely positive role among all the other communities in the diverse constituency of Chipping Barnet, which I am very proud to represent.

Antisemitism is a poison that dates back millennia. Millions have lost their lives to that vicious hatred over the centuries, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust and industrialised killing. Every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day we make a commitment never to forget what happened and to remain always vigilant against antisemitism and racism.

Just this afternoon, I was at a meeting of the Holocaust Memorial APPG and we heard chilling testimony from a holocaust survivor, my constituent Mala Tribich. We must extend that vigilance to the beautiful game. It is hard to think of another pastime that generates such emotion in its followers. There is a visceral connection between fans and clubs, but no emotional connection justifies racist hatred and abuse of others. Let the message go out from this House today that antisemitism has no place in English football. It will not be tolerated and those responsible for it will be brought to justice.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I intend to call the SNP spokesperson at 5.08pm in order to leave two minutes for the right hon. Lady to wind up. That leaves us with just over 20 minutes for the debate. There are five Members standing but I have been notified of three Members wishing to speak, so I hope people will respect the time and be brief. That applies to interventions as well. I call Rosie Duffield.

Photo of Rosie Duffield Rosie Duffield Labour, Canterbury 4:44 pm, 22nd June 2022

I congratulate Theresa Villiers on securing this important debate. Antisemitism, like every form of racism, is ugly, aggressive and ignorant, but also often overlooked or left out completely when we discuss racism in sport. We applaud the lead taken by Lewis Hamilton, and other national sporting icons, when taking the knee to highlight racism, and the important work of groups such as Show Racism the Red Card, and Kick It Out. But rarely a mention is given to the antisemitic chants or language that are seemingly just accepted or ignored on the terraces.

Several Members here are part of the APPG against antisemitism, and are familiar with the work of Lord John Mann and our secretariat, the Antisemitism Policy Trust, who work tirelessly to highlight the problems, and work with football clubs and other institutions to actively find solutions. Back in 2008, Lord Mann, then the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, undertook a big piece of work called, “Antisemitism in European football: a scar on the beautiful game”. He updated his report as the Government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, working with young football fans in association with the Holocaust Educational Trust. The report highlights some shocking examples: Nazi salutes; the use of swastikas; disgusting racist chants; and even the depiction of Anne Frank on some mock football cards.

While it is positive that some police forces and football clubs are striving to do better, others inexplicably turn a blind eye to this particular form of racism. Perhaps the title of David Baddiel’s book is especially relevant here: “Jews Don’t Count”. In the book, Baddiel talks about his own experiences as a lifelong football fan and gives some stark examples of the kind of language that Jewish fans like himself and his brother have heard on the terraces. The APPG visited Chelsea football club just before the pandemic, and it was reassuring to hear that there seems to be more recognition of the problem, and some determination to adopt a zero-tolerance policy. The adoption by Chelsea, and the English Premier League, of the IHRA definition was also welcomed by the APPG against antisemitism.

Debates such as this can and should prompt sports fans to be more alert, and perhaps call out those incidents when they see or hear them. However, even getting antisemitism included in anti-racist campaigns has been slow and extremely difficult. There are more examples of that in David Baddiel’s book. I have to declare an interest here, as my partner is currently directing the Channel 4 documentary version of the book, which will be shown in the autumn. The book contains many examples of the author finding it really hard to get anyone to take antisemitism as seriously as the other forms of racism that we are more familiar with in sport.

I hope that we will see more awareness of the issue, more being done to stop it and that football—and all sports—will be safe for everyone to enjoy, free from the fear or anticipation of any form of racist abuse.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South 4:47 pm, 22nd June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Racism in football has reduced dramatically over the last few decades. Indeed, we are thankfully in a different place to where we were in the 1970s and 1980s. However, we must be under no illusions; racism still does exist in the game, as we saw most notably following the appalling comments on social media directed at England players after our defeat in the final of last year’s Euro championships. Given the club’s long association with the Jewish community, it would be remiss of me not to refer directly to Tottenham Hotspur, as my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers did, when discussing antisemitism in football. I declare my interest as a proud but long-suffering Spurs fan and season ticket holder, who looks forward to being back at White Hart Lane when the season kicks off in August.

Historically, the use of the Y-word by Tottenham fans was initially taken as a positive step to deflect antisemitic abuse that they were subjected to at matches more than 40 years ago from opposition fans who faced no sanctions for their actions. The term continues to be used to the present day by many of my fellow supporters. Tottenham, as a club, has always maintained that fans have never used the word with any deliberate attempt to offend. Spurs fans often use the word as a term of endearment towards one another, and as a defence mechanism against the antisemitic abuse that still exists in the stands today—something the club has acknowledged in the past. I know Spurs fans who are Jewish and who see the word as a term of endearment to the club’s Jewish fans and a recognition of its historic connection with the Jewish community. However, it is clear that not all Jewish supporters see the term in the same way.

The club deserves credit for starting that debate and consulting widely with its fanbase on the usage of the word. The results of the consultation have reaffirmed the club’s commitment to working with all sections of its fanbase to reduce the use of the term, and rightly so. Given how ingrained the word is among Spurs fans, that will not happen overnight—it will probably be a rather long process—but the club deserves recognition for leading that debate and engaging with its fans in the process.

It should be made clear that the use of the Y-word by Tottenham fans should never be cited as an excuse for the evil of antisemitism, both in society at large and in football. As I mentioned, the adoption of the term was a direct consequence of the lack of action when it was used against Spurs fans. In using the term, Spurs fans are universally well intentioned, but make no mistake, there is genuine antisemitism in football, and it is used with the intention of causing deliberate harm and offence.

Let me give one example. On my way to a game at the old Upton Park ground, I was in a pub with West Ham fans. After singing disparaging chants about Tottenham, those fans proceeded to hiss to imitate the evil of the holocaust, in a direct reference to Tottenham’s Jewish heritage. It was not just a few mindless idiots, but dozens of people, and it lasted a long time. From recollection, that incident happened in 2015 or 2016. We might hope that things have since improved, but as my right hon. Friend mentioned, it was only last month that an opposition supporter at Tottenham was ejected for making a Nazi salute—again, presumably in reference to the Jewish connection to our club. Those are just two examples of the continued evil of antisemitism in football, but a further example would be the use of the Israel flag by Rangers fans, which is often met with blatant antisemitism online as well.

Some great initiatives are being undertaken to deal with wider racism in football, and I commend the Government, the Football Association, the Premier League and the English Football League for leading that work, but antisemitism remains a serious issue in football and more needs to be done to combat it. I commend my right hon. Friend for securing the debate, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister about how the Government will continue to address the matter.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:53 pm, 22nd June 2022

It is an absolute pleasure to speak in the debate. I thank Theresa Villiers for setting the scene so well. I am surprised that Scott Benton is a Spurs supporter; I would have thought he would be a Blackpool fan. I come from outside Newtownards, so Ards FC is my home team. That does not mean that I do not support Leicester City; nor does it mean that I do not support Rangers Football Club, which I think the hon. Gentleman said he supports. On a Saturday afternoon, I always look for the three results. I have been a fan of Leicester City for 53 years, and of Rangers and Ards for probably much longer.

Sport gives us an opportunity to come together and unify our enjoyments. I have always been a football supporter—I love the game, played it at school and still follow it—so it saddens me that there are still instances of racism in sport. There is no place whatsoever for racism. I do not care if in some people’s minds it is one small incident; in my mind, it is a big incident of something should never happen. The right hon. Lady should be commended for securing the debate and giving us a chance to add our comments.

We must do more to remind those who want to inflict abuse on others that we are all the same but simply different. We have the same blood in our veins and we were brought up in the same culture. Being of different religions does not make us any different, nor does having different outlooks on life. It does not make a ha’penny-bit of difference, as we would say back home.

I am very pleased to see the Minister in his place. I always genuinely enjoy hearing the Minister and I know he will give us much encouragement in this debate today, because of his nature. I look forward to the other contributions as well.

I said to the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet before the debate that I was going to mention a wee bit about what we have done in Northern Ireland. It is an example of where there are two very different sides of the community, from the Unionist and the nationalist points of view and from a religious point of view as well. I was brought up in the ’60s, so the troubles were very much part of my life. There was maybe a certain sectarianism in football—you supported this team or you supported that team. That is the way it sometimes happened. The Irish Football Association took a decision to address the issue of race and identity from a very early stage. I am sure our very knowledgeable Minister will already know about the excellent work we have been doing in Northern Ireland. We have taken giant steps forward to bridge the gaps and bring the community together.

Northern Ireland youth soccer experienced much racism and hatred at one stage. There is even a short film titled “Where You Really From?” that was released in March this year, which highlights the racism around Northern Irish football. The Irish Football Association has worked extremely hard, as a collective, to create a culture worth celebrating. We must do more to encourage others to take pride in diversity and not abuse others. In Northern Ireland, inclusivity has transcended both sides of the community. We have seen massive steps forward. I put on the record my thanks to the IFA for what it has done at every level of football—the premier league, the intermediate league and the lower leagues and ordinary community football that we all grew up loving and enjoying.

I have no issue with fans having passion when it comes to sport—they should have passion for their team; but they must have respect for the others as well. I recall an incident that occurred in 2020, just after England’s victory against Ukraine in the 2020 Euros. A 17-year-old boy admitted to verbally abusing a Jewish man on the London underground. Sometimes people understand they are wrong, but they still do not take the correct precautions to not say these things. Respect for others is so important, but we live in an era where racial abuse is all too common and young people see it being normalised through social media.

As Margaret Ferrier said, action needs to be taken not just at our level, but at European football level as well. I think of Hungary, which I mention because that team has some very right-wing fans. I am not saying that people do not have a right to hold right-wing views, but their views are disgraceful—the chants, the verbal abuse and the physical abuse have been outrageous. UEFA’s way of punishing the team was to close the ground, but I will tell hon. Members the best thing to do: they should not be allowed to come to any more football matches—keep them away. That would be a better idea, rather than allowing them to come back again sometime in the future. There is a big job for Europe to do as well.

For decades, there have been multiple instances worldwide of antisemitism in sport. The Anne Frank House works tirelessly to fight the issue—it stems back to as far back as the holocaust—as issues in sport hold a special place in the organisation’s heart. It held an international conference, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Health and held in the Amsterdam Arena. Yet instances of fan interaction have been witnessed in Germany where fans encourage others to remain peaceful. People often underestimate the impact fans can have on football stadiums. Unity is powerful, but it must be the correct type of unity. We can all join together and support our teams, whoever they may be, but we must have respect for others as well.

The Henry Jackson Association has stated that antisemitism has become a blight across the European continent. It certainly has; there are plenty of examples. The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet could have gone on at some length with more examples, if time had permitted. The Premier League only adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism in December 2020. More needs to be done to address this everlasting problem. Only recently, Tottenham’s chairman, Daniel Levy, was subject to antisemitic slurs, which is absolutely disgraceful, and they were not addressed—they were ignored—by the radio presenters. When these things happen, we must condemn them in the strongest terms whenever we can.

The hon. Member for Blackpool South referred to the Israeli flag. I have a small Israeli flag in my office. I keep it there all the time; it never moves because I am a proud supporter of Israel—that is not a secret. I am a member of the Friends of Israel in this place and in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I will continue to take that stance and be that voice for Israel against all the people across the world who do them down. Our modern society must drive for inclusivity at every level, and rightly so. However, on too many occasions, this inclusivity does not extend to our Jewish friends—it extends to my Jewish friends—and society must grasp that. Those Jewish friends are as British as you and I, and that lack of inclusivity needs to be addressed. We need change, and it must begin in this House. Today’s debate is one way of doing that.

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Labour, Bury South 5:00 pm, 22nd June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Stringer, both as a neighbour and an MP covering a large and proud Jewish community. Women and men, girls and boys, northern and southern, blue and red, and religious and non-religious meet arm in arm and stand side by side at our football stadiums, supporting their beloved teams. Communities come together to passionately rally behind their sides in the hope of that everlasting and euphoric victory. There is no feeling quite like it and as a United fan, it has been a while since I have felt that feeling.

We all remember the glorious scenes across the country last summer as that inspiring England team came so close to bringing it home. However, what we saw directed at our three lions, Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, after the game shows that a serious and worrisome trend continues to infiltrate our games and spread like a poison across our stands. It is the poison of racism, aimed mostly at working-class black lads merely for doing the job they love.

Discrimination wherever it occurs and in whatever format needs to be rooted out and eradicated. 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. That is why I was heartened to see the immense courage of Blackpool player Jake Daniels, who recently came out as gay, giving gay players a role model and normalising the fact that football is a game for everyone regardless of sexual orientation.

There is a growing trend of Jews attending games hoping to see their team defend with vigour, but instead finding themselves defending their children from racist vitriol. However, this is news to no one. Everyone knows that antisemitism has haunted the stands of British football for far too long. Antisemitism seems to be a common feature of the sport. While some clubs have shown an increasing commitment to stamping out prejudice and discrimination in their clubs through the adoption of the IHRA definition, as well as Chelsea’s “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign, it seems to have had little traction as of yet.

We see examples of antisemitism in football everywhere. Tottenham Hotspur football club is, of course, home to a large Jewish population, and rival supporters have used the pejorative Y-word, as has already been mentioned, with little consequence for doing so. West Ham fans found themselves banned from attending club games after they sang antisemitic songs on a commercial flight. Arsenal fans spat at Spurs fans that they would be “gassing Jews”. Even at grassroot and junior football, I have heard local reports from Maccabi of their Jewish players—some only seven years of age—being hissed at by players on the opposite side, replicating the noise of the gas chambers. I am sure that we can all agree that is truly shameful, shocking and abhorrent.

This racist abuse is widespread, though, with most Premier League clubs having witnessed antisemitic abuse within the last decade, so I am happy to contribute to the debate to address what has been done and what remains to be done to fight this concerning trend of antisemitism and racism in British football. I am delighted to see that some clubs across the UK have taken steps to combat antisemitic behaviour among their fans as well as among their players. Clubs like Chelsea have recently been in the news for doing just that. Much more needs to be done within football and throughout wider society—indeed, other sports, too, as we saw in cricket with Azeem Rafiq and the Islamophobia that came out just last year.

Sport provides an opportunity to create new friends and be part of a community, and it teaches young people how to co-exist in diverse politics. Sports is an incredibly powerful tool. Football, in particular, reflects society, and that is why I am concerned to see examples of antisemitism during the local elections this year from Conservative candidates in my own area of Bury because, again, antisemitism needs to be rooted out from our stands, society and politics. There is no time or place for it; it has to stop.

We need to do much more to ensure that British football players can play the beautiful game without being subject to unacceptable abuse. We need tougher sanctions against offenders, action by social media companies, better education about the plight of Jews and all other races who find themselves subject to racist attacks, and a zero-tolerance policy that does not allow for repeat offenders, as well as—perhaps—policies that punish offenders retrospectively.

The normalisation of racist abuse is a significant step towards the normalisation of racist attacks. We need to be hard on this issue, otherwise we will bring about a worse situation in which our ethnic minorities are physically abused. Nipping this problem in the bud is the correct course of action in order to get back the community and family feeling at British football games, and to finally give antisemitism the two-footed slide tackle that it deserves.

Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

My hon. Friend mentioned online antisemitism. I am a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Taskforce To Combat Online Antisemitism. We found that popular subjects, such as football and other sports, were being used on social media, for instance in videos, and people included things such as tropes and conspiracy theories to gradually groom and recruit people into the far right and racist gangs. And these practices actually become prevalent in sporting arenas, such as football grounds. Do we not need more to stamp that out online, so that it does not appear in the grounds?

Photo of Christian Wakeford Christian Wakeford Labour, Bury South

We absolutely need to do that, because if antisemitism and racism are allowed to breed online, it ultimately ends up on the streets, in our football stands and in any sporting arena, as well as—again—in our politics.

Theresa Villiers who secured this debate spoke about the great work of Lord Mann in tackling this issue. I was very fortunate to speak in a conference in Jerusalem last year about antisemitism and how it is tackled on a global scale. We heard from representatives from Hungary, from Borussia Dortmund and from Chelsea as to how they have seen antisemitism not only grow but start to be tackled. In some stands, we saw swastikas being flown just a couple of years ago, but those clubs are now very family-friendly, because they nipped the problem in the bud and have a zero-tolerance approach. We need to see the same on our online platforms, which is why —again—the Online Safety Bill was a fantastic opportunity. However, it has been a missed opportunity, when so much more could be done to tackle this harmful abuse online.

That is why we really need to tackle this problem. We need to tackle it seriously and make sure that it is banished to where it belongs—in the history books.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

I call the Scottish National party spokesperson, who I will stop after five minutes, as I will the Labour spokesperson after I call him.

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport) 5:07 pm, 22nd June 2022

Thank you very much for calling me to speak, Mr Stringer.

I start by congratulating Theresa Villiers on securing today’s important debate, which comes on the 36th anniversary of one of the best moments in Scottish football history—the Diego MaradonaHand of God’ goal in the Mexico 1986 World Cup. [Laughter.] I have lost the room before I have even started.

Scott Benton mentioned in his contribution that we have come a long way and that the racism issue is a lot better than it used to be. Obviously though, it is still a massive issue; hence today’s debate. Only a few years after that goal in 1986, in the early 1990s, I remember that black players who had come up to Scotland—such as Justin Fashanu, who played for Airdrie and Hearts, and Mark Walters, who played for Rangers—were subjected to monkey chants and inflatable bananas were thrown around the crowd, and what-have-you. It was a fully horrible time to witness that behaviour. Nevertheless, the hon. Gentleman is right that we have made some progress. However, there is still a heck of a lot to do, which I will outline.

The right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet, who secured the debate and led it off, rightly started by referring to the horrendous racism faced by the England players last year, before going on to focus on antisemitism. She mentioned Nir Bitton, the Celtic player and Israel international, who faced antisemitic abuse following an Old Firm game. Indeed, this happens on the pitch as well. During a European game, Glen Kamara, the Rangers player and Finnish international, faced racist abuse by a player—a Czech player, I think—who was banned for 10 games. That is a rare example of UEFA actually dealing with racism appropriately. I say that because I share the view of Margaret Ferrier, who is no longer in her place, who expressed concerns about UEFA’s approach to this issue.

Rosie Duffield spoke about David Baddiel’s book, “Jews Don’t Count”, which I have on my reading pile. I have not got round to reading it yet; it is in a pile of about 12 books in my flat. She mentioned the work of Lord Mann; I was pleased to help facilitate a meeting between Lord Mann, a representative of Borussia Dortmund and the Scottish Sports Minister on a recent visit. The hon. Member for Blackpool South, who I have mentioned, spoke of how ingrained the Y-word is in Tottenham. I appreciate his point but I am not entirely sure that historical use is a proper justification for continued use of that word.

The hon. Member for Westminster Hall—sorry, I mean Strangford. Jim Shannon proudly mentioned that he was an Ards, Leicester and Rangers fan. Indeed, having had conversations with his colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, I think he perhaps needed to be a Rangers fan to pass the vetting. He has spoken in a number of debates on abuse, particularly abuse of a religious nature, and he has a depth of knowledge and experience, having grown up during the troubles.

My colleague on the Transport Committee, Christian Wakeford, lost the crowd almost as quickly as I did at the start of my speech by announcing he was a Man United fan. He quite rightly brought up the Blackpool player Jake Daniels, who came out. In 2022, it is actually a disgrace that we have to celebrate these things. It just shows how far we have to go.

Football clubs are hugely important institutions, with vital links to the community and to people across the world. We talk of the power of sport in this country, as I think the hon. Member for Bury South did. For many people, that is football. We have to harness that power a little better than we do. Inclusion and representation matter to promote better values and tolerance of differences that may be seldom understood unless awareness and education is promoted.

Young fans are incredibly impressionable to the behaviour of footballers. I do not know whether this has been mentioned, but a 2018 CNN investigation into antisemitism in Europe found that a third of Europeans in the poll knew little or nothing about the Nazis’ systematic killing of 6 million Jews. A survey carried out on behalf of the Claims Conference 2018 found that 11% of American adults were not sure they had ever even heard of the holocaust. Debates such as this and Holocaust Memorial Day are still massively important. Equality in football is essential, free from discrimination such as antisemitism and other forms of racism.

I should say that I am a St Johnstone fan, although I was brought up by my dad as a Rangers fan, but sent to a Catholic primary school. The west of Scotland is clearly not where the hon. Member for Strangford grew up, but it had—

Photo of Jeff Smith Jeff Smith Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 5:12 pm, 22nd June 2022

I congratulate Theresa Villiers on securing the debate. We have had excellent speeches, from my hon. Friends the Members for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) and for Bury South (Christian Wakeford), and across the Chamber.

We agree that football is a game that brings people together. It can break down divides, foster friendships and create a positive sense of community. But a minority of fans bring unacceptable attitudes and language. UK football policing authorities note that there was an increase in hate crime incidents reported in stadiums in the first half of last season. After two incidents in one weekend at the end of the season, the anti-racism charity Kick It Out commented that “hate is alive and well” in the game.

According to a FIFA report, more than half the players in the most recent Euro 2020 and Africa Cup of Nations finals were abused online before, during and after the game. We remember today the appalling reaction from some England fans to England’s loss in the Euro finals and the racist targeting of Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho. We still have a lot to do.

It is important to address antisemitism in the context of a worrying upturn in antisemitic hate crime in the UK. In recent years, as we have heard in this debate, Jewish fans have been abused at matches and Nazi salutes have been used. Antisemitic slurs are still used online in relation to football. Antisemitic chants are still sometimes sung from football stands across Europe. The authorities really need to do more to tackle that. The Antisemitism Policy Trust has documented antisemitic incidents in football internationally, but also highlights good examples of how we can respond.

Chelsea fans have been involved in several incidents of antisemitism, but the club has taken a strong stand and been praised for its response. Last year it won the King David Award from the European Jewish Association. Its “Say No to Antisemitism” campaign has been educating the clubs, players, staff, fans and community about antisemitism and football.

Another club taking action is, of course, Tottenham. This year the club urged supporters to move on from using the Y-word after consultation with fans and Jewish groups. I recently met Ashley Lerner, the chief executive of Maccabi GB—and a Spurs fan—to discuss this issue among others. Maccabi is an excellent charity that promotes British Jews’ health, wellbeing and participation in sport. The history of the Y-word at Spurs is complex. I used to go and watch Man City at White Hart Lane in the ’80s, and Spurs fans used to use the term to take ownership and as a badge of pride. However, times and attitudes change. While not all Jewish Spurs fans find the word offensive, it is widely regarded as an antisemitic slur and the majority of those surveyed by Spurs agreed it was a racist word. We support the club’s efforts to ditch the Y-word.

There are good initiatives to tackle racism more widely, such as Kick It Out, as I have mentioned. In 2020 the Football Association launched its football leadership diversity code. Last year the Premier League launched its “No room for racism” action plan, which accompanies a new equality, diversity and inclusion standard that has been applied to all clubs. These are all steps in the right direction. The fan-led review of football governance proposes an independent regulator, which Labour wants to see in place as soon as possible, that can set clear equality, diversity and inclusion standards that clubs must meet as part of their licensing conditions. However, we will not have an independent regulator until 2024 at the earliest, so what action can the Government take now to ensure that football improves efforts to tackle discrimination?

I want to mention Baroness Casey’s review of the chaos at the Euro 2020 men’s finals at Wembley. She highlighted the unacceptable racist actions of some of those present, as well as online after the match, and called for more action. Her review, published last December, highlights some pressing issues on safety. When will the Government respond to her review?

Finally, Labour welcomes the fact that football banning orders have been extended to those who carry out online racist abuse. However, can the Minister say what conversations he is having with clubs and governing bodies about tackling the rising trend of hate crimes in stadiums? All Members present agree that antisemitism and racism have no place in our society, and they should have no place in football. We must redouble our efforts to kick them out.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Would the Minister leave a couple of minutes at the end for the proposer of the debate to wind up?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport 5:17 pm, 22nd June 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank my right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers for securing this important debate and all those who have participated. There is a very clear message coming from this Chamber today; it is clear from my right hon. Friend’s comments—and those of all Members who have spoken—that we all share the view that it is of the utmost importance to continue tackling the issues of antisemitism and racism in football, in sport and, indeed, in society.

That is why the Government and its arm’s length bodies, Sport England and UK Sport, have worked closely with football authorities and the sector to ensure that tackling all forms of racism and discrimination remains a priority. I am personally committed to this, as I want sport to be welcoming to everyone and a true reflection of our diverse society. It is therefore particularly disappointing to have this debate about racism, discrimination and antisemitism in football, because it is one of our most diverse sports. Indeed, many of our highest-profile stars are from ethnically diverse backgrounds.

However, as we have seen in the media and online over the past few years, there have been continued incidents of discrimination at and around football matches. Over the past year, incidents have been recorded of antisemitism and of Jewish fans being abused in the UK and across Europe. My right hon. Friend gave a rather alarming list of such incidents. Many colleagues today have mentioned the Euro 2020 finals, after which there was an increase in online abuse, in particular, and racism, indicating that this remains a serious issue in football. Over the past few years we have continued to work with football authorities to try to tackle the issue, but so much more needs to be done.

What has been done? There have been actions targeted at and around football grounds, such as improving reporting systems, providing better training and support for referees and stewards, who are often abused themselves, and improving the quality of CCTV and other equipment around stadiums. One significant action was the Government amending legislation to extend the use of football banning orders so that online abusers can be banned from stadiums for up to 10 years, ensuring that action is being taken both online and offline.

As my right hon. Friend and other Members mentioned, we hope that the Online Safety Bill, currently going through Parliament, will also help to tackle some of these issues. One thing that I think we all find quite alarming is this. Abuse, including online abuse, is against the terms and conditions of social media companies already. The problem is that they are not always able or, I am afraid, willing to implement their own terms and conditions. That is one reason why we had to bring in that Bill.

As the national governing body for football, the FA has a responsibility to address all forms of discrimination in the game. Of course, that includes antisemitism, and I know that this is something that it does take seriously. Last year, as Rosie Duffield and others mentioned, the FA and the English Football League joined the Premier League in adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. That provides clear and united guidance across football on what language or actions may be considered antisemitic. The FA has issued fines and bans to players found guilty of antisemitic behaviour. It also works closely with independent bodies, such as Kick It Out, to use the vast reach of football to help educate people, in an effort to wipe out antisemitism.

Photo of Jonathan Lord Jonathan Lord Conservative, Woking

Mercifully, I am not aware of any publicly known antisemitism regarding Woking football club and similar clubs in the locality, but in 2017 there was a small graffiti war, played out on walls and garage doors in Woking, that contained a lot of antisemitism, and that was from rival Polish football fans. As well as attacking things domestically, will we use our positions in UEFA and FIFA—we have a World cup coming—to ensure that the IHRA definition is also imposed internationally and that our international friends also take this matter really seriously?

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we do try, both as a Government and in the sporting bodies and entities whose voice carries a lot of weight internationally. The UK sport bodies are generally quite highly regarded and respected and show great leadership on these issues. I would certainly encourage them to continue those conversations and that dialogue with the international bodies, so that they follow the leadership that is sometimes shown in the UK. When I meet Sport Ministers from the G20 and the G7 around the world, these are precisely the kinds of issues that we raise. I am sorry to hear about the incident that my hon. Friend became aware of.

Other bodies are working on this issue too. An example is the Premier League. We welcome the Premier League’s No Room For Racism action plan and the announcement of new enhanced anti-discrimination measures such as league-wide bans for offenders. In June 2020, the league launched a dedicated reporting system for players, managers, coaches and their family members, which has proven successful in pursuing legal action against offenders.

I think that this is an important point to emphasise—my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet mentioned it in her speech. This offence and abuse can be a hate crime, which is illegal, and can be and often is pursued in the courts. It is not banter; it is not something to be taken trivially. It can and should lead to pursuits in the courts. The Opposition spokesperson, Jeff Smith, also made the important point that times change and attitudes change, and it is not really an excuse to say, “Oh, well, we used to do this in the past.” My hon. Friend Scott Benton also raised this issue. What was perhaps not intended or perceived to be offensive in the past can be now.

We need to be very conscious of the difference between intent in using certain words and behaviours, and the impact that it has on people. I think that is very important in this debate as well. Even where action may not be intended to be abusive or offensive, the reality is that it can be, and there is a responsibility on individuals, governing bodies and clubs to communicate that it can be and is offensive to their fanbase.

We know that there is still a lot more to do across football as a whole. The fan-led review of football governance, which the hon. Member for Manchester, Withington mentioned, recommended that the football authorities work even more closely to ensure consistent campaigns across the various organisations. The Government are pleased that the Premier League, the FA and the EFL have agreed to collaborate on an overarching campaign for equality, diversity and inclusion across football, with Kick It Out. As suggested by the review, we will explore a new, single repository for reports of discrimination—more on this will likely be coming in the White Paper in the coming months. The Government will continue to work closely with all football authorities on this issue.

We know that it is not only football that is facing these challenges. In June 2021, Sport England, UK Sport and the other home nations’ sports councils all published the results of a detailed, independent review of tackling racism and racial inequality in sport. The review brought together data and gathered lived experiences of racial inequalities and racism in the sector. The findings make it clear that racism and racial inequalities still exist within sport in the UK. The sports councils agreed on a set of overarching commitments, and they will work together. Updates on progress are being provided every six months, and I am keen to ensure that this momentum is sustained over the long term.

The updated code places an increased focus on diversity in decision making and ensuring that sports organisations reflect more accurately the communities they serve. The code now requires sports organisations to produce individual diversity and inclusion plans. These have to be agreed by Sport England and/or UK Sport, they have to be published, and they have to be updated annually, so there is positive action there. Diversity and inclusion is absolutely essential to sport. We want people to enjoy taking part in their chosen activity, and we want to attract and retain talented athletes from all backgrounds. That cannot happen if people do not feel welcomed or respected.

Let me briefly address a couple of other points raised by colleagues before I conclude. A couple of hon. Members raised the issue of penalties, particularly in international competitions. That is an important point and again one that we discuss, because penalties for bad behaviour by fans are the responsibility of the clubs. The clubs need to be punished accordingly, and that punishment needs to be effective and needs to hurt. I will always back what some might see as quite tough punishment, but it is needed because we need to take these issues seriously and take every action to make sure the clubs take it seriously.

It should go without saying that there is no place for racism, sexism, homophobia, or any other kind of discrimination in football or sport more widely. We have heard that loud and clear from all colleagues today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet has raised many important points, and I sincerely thank her for her interest and passion in this subject. Indeed, it is something that she has spoken about eloquently for many, many years. There is still more to do, but she has my assurance that the Government are committed to continuing to work with football authorities to combat racism, discrimination and antisemitism, both in person and online, from the grassroots to the boardroom.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 5:28 pm, 22nd June 2022

This has been a really good debate. There was, I think, universal acceptance that the situation is much improved from the dark days of the ’70s, but also that antisemitism and racism is still a serious problem in football, and that we want the football establishment to take it more seriously and to be more active in dealing with the problem, not least because it is so influential on the younger generation.

We also had a chance to look at the particular complexities of the situation at Spurs. It was disturbing to hear of the abuse directed at supporters of that club. We also heard from Margaret Ferrier about the role of international footballing associations in cracking down on this problem. I welcome the Minister’s assurances that the Online Safety Bill will crack down on the social media companies to ensure that they take this more seriously and police their own terms and conditions.

But what I was most disturbed by was the example cited by Christian Wakeford. The idea of people making hissing noises at seven-year-old Jewish footballers is just revolting. It is profoundly disturbing and is a real illustration of how antisemitism remains a serious problem in football in our society. I am pleased to have had the chance to table this debate to ensure that we as a House make it clear that this kind of conduct is utterly and completely unacceptable.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered antisemitism and other forms of racism in football.

Sitting adjourned.