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Raheem has given confidence to a few more players to speak

TARGET: Raheem Sterling

WHAT DOES the appalling abuse we saw Raheem Sterling endure at Stamford Bridge tell us about the state of football right now, apart from the Manchester City player’s impressive dignity?

In 1994 I said authorities pay lip service to demands for action, but in reality turn a blind eye to the issue of racism. That was 24 years ago when Kick It Out was just one-year-old.

After we all saw the ugliness on show at Chelsea last weekend, I said football still lacks authoritative leadership at the top of the game to stand up and speak out against hatred. And those responsible for this failure should carry the can for this as much as the perpetrators of hate themselves.

Football’s authorities hide behind procedure and they also hide behind Kick It Out - an organisation that survives in a year on what a top Premier League player takes home in a few days.

I should be clear: I don’t include Chelsea Football Club in this. The incident last weekend could have happened at any ground. Indeed, on an almost weekly basis similar incidents take place at stadiums and football pitches up and down the country. Our reporting stats show that.

Chelsea have done so much work to combat discrimination but their reputation has been tarnished by a small minority. The club underlined their commitment to tackling hate once again earlier this season when they funded a short film encouraging football fans to report antisemitism, as well as a practical educational resource for stewards on the same issue.

As my colleague Troy Townsend answered requests to appear on many TV and radio programmes to talk about the what happened, the FA and the Premier League issued run-of-the-mill statements condemning discrimination but did not take part in any discussions I saw or heard.

Perhaps what should be worrying them is that our media department at Kick It Out received almost as many requests from international news organisations as they did from domestic ones - a sign their viewers across the world were as appalled by what they were seeing as we were.

We often hear of the Premier League ‘brand’. It’s a brand being diminished every time a banana lands on the pitch or a black player is subjected to vile abuse.

If football still has a problem with racism - and it clearly does - it is not alone in society. It reflects the casual hatred we hear around us daily in all walks of life.

And the not so casual, too; Home Office figures for hate crime reports in England and Wales have increased by 17 per cent, the number recorded by police doubled and more than three quarters of those concerned racism.

Our own figures at Kick It Out just a few weeks ago showed an 11 per cent increase in hate reports last season.

That hatred, as Raheem himself points out, is fuelled by elements of the media and I have written before in the Voice and on the BBC that we are in danger of driving young talented footballers like him from the game if we don’t address and punish this abuse wherever we find it.

I am often asked if the rise in discrimination reports is because people are more confident and knowledgeable about reporting, or whether there’s more abuse out there.

Our research alongside Forza Football found less than half of football fans in the UK did not know how to report discrimination, which doesn’t suggest the rise is related to greater awareness of what to do when you hear abuse.

So if there is more abuse out there, we need firm leadership and a clear path forward.We are the first to criticise racist incidents or behaviour in football in other countries. They might be entitled to accuse us of living in a very well-appointed, luxury glass house while throwing stones.

But maybe something is changing for the better. It was nice to see Eden Hazard not only offer his support to Raheem Sterling but call out the people who abused him as not real Chelsea fans.

Hopefully Raheem has given confidence to a few more players to speak out and they may be the most influential behaviour-changers we have.

At Kick It Out we have worked with some great playing ambassadors in the men’s and women’s game and we are very grateful for the time they give us and the tremendous benefits they bring to the anti-discrimination cause.

As for me, I have the rest of this season as Chair of Kick It Out and I can assure you that from our point of view it is business as usual - we will campaign, educate, support and speak out on these issues until the time comes when we are needed no more.

The events of the last few weeks show that dream is a long way away.

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