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Are the 'bad old days' back in football?

SUBJECT OF BILE: Liverpool's Mo Salah

IF I had a pound for the number of times someone’s asked me in the last few weeks if the “bad old days “are back in football, or told me they thought “all that racist stuff” had gone away, I’d have enough to take me and my family to a Premier League match.

We’ve seen some isolated, but high-profile and shameful incidents at football stadia which have made headlines on the front and back pages.
Raheem Sterling being abused at Chelsea, the same club charged with anti-Semitic abuse at a Europa League match, racist chanting by a section of Millwall fans at an FA Cup match against Everton, a banana being thrown on the pitch by a Spurs fan in the North London derby (though this was deemed not to be racially motivated). Just this week, a video emerged of a West Ham fan shouting Islamaphobic bile at Mo Salah.

What do these events – apart from being shocking and all taking place in the capital - have in common? Are the “bad old days” doom-mongers right?

Let’s try and get some context here.

First, all of the clubs involved - Chelsea, West Ham, Millwall and Tottenham (and Arsenal)- have acted quickly, condemned the behaviour and co-operated with the police and relevant authorities.

That is to be commended.

Second, all these cases highlight the positive side of social media – the videos of the abuse have been shared, reported and pressurised the relevant authorities to take action. In some cases, the clips have been used to identify offenders.

Chris Hughton has praised social media for helping to pick up racist abuse far more quickly. But its more negative side is also in evidence.
A few Millwall fans directing their anger against the media, rather than those who damage their club, for example. Some West Ham supporters also pointed out it was “just one fan” abusing Mo Salah, as if there is some sort of quota for the number of racists you are allowed to have at a match.

As John Barnes said at the end of last year: “If every racist who came to football was silenced, football stadiums would still be full of racists. Racism is everywhere in our society; it is inside every one of us.”

My former colleague, Piara Powar, from Europe’s anti-discrimination network FARE, has called on the FA to “get a grip on the problem. They do a lot of good work but they should use the powers they have to close stadiums and ban and fine clubs.”

He has a point - I have argued for some time the way football’s authorities deal with discrimination cases is slow and dysfunctional. If millions of people could see what was happening to Raheem Sterling at Stamford Bridge, why were the Premier League so slow to react?

And to put it bluntly, did the FA not see any potential problems in holding a televised cup tie at 5.30 on a Saturday night between two clubs with well-known football firms, giving them all day to get tanked up?

That is not in any way to justify the behaviour of the fans involved but perhaps the authorities could show more leadership, to come together to decide on a strategy.

The Premier League met yesterday with the 20 chairmen and women in England’s top flight. Together, they decided “more needs to be done to ensure BAME fans and players are supported, and that pathways are improved to encourage more people from different backgrounds to take up coaching, refereeing and administrative roles in the sport."

This is absolutely right - and should be welcomed and supported. We at Kick It Out are doing a lot of that already and have been for 25 years. If the PL is serious about making genuine change, which I have no doubt they are, why were we at Kick It Out not consulted about this meeting?

English football’s approach to tackling racism is dysfunctional. We would be much stronger with a more coherent approach to fighting discrimination. It’s a team game, remember.

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