Naked Politics Blogger
The Football Association estimate that around 8.2 million people play ‘the beautiful game’ at grass roots level, however there is an ugly stain that continues to besmirch football, and that is racism.
The front and back pages have recently been plagued with stories of racism at all levels from Montenegro fans racially abusing black England players in their Euro 2020 qualifier in March to Chelsea fans singing racist songs about Mo Salah before their match in Prague just last week. In response, UEFA and the FA were quick to condemn these actions and reaffirm that there is no place for racism in the professional game. These incidents are far too common but are thankfully quite rare in the grand scheme of things. But what is the situation like at the bottom of the football pyramid? With less fans at matches is racism still a problem?
Well the evidence seems to suggest that it is. ITV News recently interviewed 46 predominantly Asian clubs and their findings make shameful reading. Of the players who replied, 79% had suffered racist abuse by either another player, a coach or spectator during the game. 45% said this had happened in the past 12 months which shows that this is still a problem in the modern game. Of those who reported the abuse, the interviews found that action was only taken in six percent of cases. Even more shocking is that the FA took no action in about a third of cases.
Upon reading the report, the most eye raising thing is that over 50% of the players who were racially abused didn’t report a thing. They sighted the fact that they have no confidence in the authorities to do anything about it as the main reason for not reporting the abuse.
ITV interviewed Blackburn United Chairman Iqbal Bhai who said that, “At the professional level I think it’s easily highlighted or taken on board more because they’re professionals but at grassroots, they don’t take it as serious as they should do because it affects players, especially the young ones.” This really highlights just how rampant a problem racism is throughout the game and not just at the top level where the national media spotlight is.
Clearly this is an issue that needs tackling and to their credit the FA have been proactive in their attempt to stop the problem. In response to these findings an FA spokesman said, “The FA has funded two extra grassroots officers, based at Kick It Out, who work directly with our County FA network as well as grassroots clubs and community groups, partly to encourage and raise awareness of reporting discrimination channels.”
This is not, however, the FA’s first attempt at trying to kick racism out of football and there is no guarantee that this time it’ll be a success. If racism continues to plague the game then it is inevitable that BAME payers are going to stop playing grassroots football. This is a great shame because playing football is great for physical and mental health of the players but it will also have a detrimental effect on the professional game too.
A study in 2017 found that only 10/3000 or 0.33% of professional footballers were British Asians which is awful when it is considered that British Asians make up 8% of the population. This means that thousands of young British Asians are not playing football and so the national team could be missing out on many hidden gems because these players are being forced out of the game through racism. I fear that the FA and the nation as a whole won’t take this issue seriously until it begins to affect their football clubs and national teams.
I do think it’s important to point out that racism is not just a problem in football, it is a societal problem too and with 8.2million people playing football every weekend this is a huge cross-section of society. This does not mean it can be ignored, however, and hopefully football can be used as a way of breaking down these racial barriers. When you cross the white line and the referee blows his whistle it doesn’t matter what age, gender or race you are, all that matters is how good a footballer you are. Football can be a great leveller and I hope it can become a place for diversity and not division. The FA, of course, have a key role to play but so do we as the general public. We are the players, coaches and supporters of the grass roots game and so it is up to us every week to make the beautiful game as inclusive as possible for everyone.