Since George Floyd’s death on 25th May 2020, football has tried to take a more significant role in tackling racism and abuse on the field, behind the scenes and online. If that is football players taking the knee, having Black Lives Matter written on the back of football players shirts or players raising the issue on their social media platforms, it seems that the sport is trying to do its part to tackle this issue. However, over the last few weeks, the topic of racism in football has become very apparent.
Not just that, but the subject has transferred from the field of play to online platforms.
High profile Premier league players from Manchester United such as Marcus Rashford, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial and Chelsea footballer Reece James have been on the receiving end of horrific racial online abuse from anonymous online users. Those around the sport have condemned what has happened to these players and want social media companies to take more extensive action over this issue. One of these figures includes the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, who wants an immediate end to the “despicable” racist abuse that some players have received online. The Premier League have also come out and have said that tech companies “need to do more” in terms of this issue.
In response to the increasing awareness of the issue online, the government has said that they are planning new online legislation. The legislation aims to make tech companies legally responsible for their uses’ online safety and make them accountable to a regulator. The proposals also include the threat of massive fines of up to 10% of global turnover if companies fail to address their users’ safety. The head of the anti-discrimination board Kick it Out is pleased that legislation is being considered and told the BBC that the “The cavalry is on the way.”
However, some feel that these laws and considerations have been long overdue. Rashford has said, “Only time will tell if the situation improves.” He continued and said that “it’s not improved over the last few years,” implying that this issue has been going on for a very long time. There are also worries that legalisation aimed to counter such racial abuse may be “watered” down due to these tech companies’ influence on governments.
The way that issue has come up repeatedly, if that is due to the racist online abuse that football players have received or instances occurring on the pitch, creates a broader question if football is institutionally racist.
To answer this critical question about football being institutionally racist, one must define what this term means. According to Sir William Macpherson, who led the inquiry into Stephen Lawrence’s death, institutional racism is “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin”. Using Macpherson’s words and applying this to football, the sport is institutionally racist on the field, in boardrooms and how football players are treated online.
There are only six non-white managers among 92 football league clubs, and 12% of the Premier league’s 182 staff are from Bame backgrounds. The government has set out targets for more black, Asian and minority ethnic representation in football boardrooms, but this must come into fruition, with clubs and football initiatives creating opportunities for people from these backgrounds to get into these higher positions.
The lack of Bame representation in higher positions is not the only issue. Football associations must take a stronger stance against people who make defamatory remarks based on race. The way Edinson Cavani was handed a fine of £100,000 and a 3-match ban for his Instagram post shows how football associations are still slapping people on the wrists and are not taking this issue seriously enough. Match bans and fines will allow the problem to persist rather than address it. Social media giants must do better on this as they are part of the problem too. One study found that 56% of more than 3000 explicitly abusive messages aimed at Premier League players were racist, highlighting the lack of moderation by these tech giants.
Addressing institutional racism requires a holistic approach, and it will not be an easy fix.
Institutional racism needs the red card by everyone, not just in this sport.