Racism in Football - Culture, Media and Sport Committee Contents

1  The problem

1. In the 1980s racially motivated abuse was, as stated by the equality and inclusion campaign group 'Kick it Out', "commonplace in and around football".[1] Kick it Out now reports that "incidents of racism are rare".[2] However, racist behaviour has not been banished from the game and there are still reports of incidents occurring within and outside of matches. Racism in football has dominated the headlines of newspapers after a series of high profile events, on-pitch incidents and reported comments in England, Holland, Bulgaria, Turkey and most recently in Ukraine and Poland during the European Championship 2012. In England, the FA's investigation into the accusations that Luis Suarez racially abused Patrice Evra, and the subsequent decision to impose an eight game ban and a £40,000 fine on the player, as well as the removal of the England captaincy from John Terry prior to his trial for allegedly using racially abusive language—of which he was acquitted—demonstrate that the issue is taken seriously. A decision has yet to be made on whether John Terry will be charged under the Football Association's rules on the use of racially abusive language, for which there is a lower burden of proof than in a criminal court.

2. Because of the continuing concerns, we decided to hold a short inquiry into racism in football. While taking into account these recent events, we have also based our inquiry on the positive progress that has been achieved in recent years, by voluntary organisations, charities and football authorities, as well as the significant challenges that still need to be overcome. We received 14 written submissions and took oral evidence from Paul Elliott MBE, a former player for Celtic and Chelsea, Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the Professional Footballers Association, David Bernstein, Chairman and Sue Law, Head of Equality and Child Protection from The Football Association (FA), Raj Chandarana of the Football Supporters Association and Lord Ouseley, Chair of Kick it Out. We would like to thank all those who gave evidence to us.


3. There is much to say that is positive. The FA told us that in 1993 England was the first country to make a concerted effort to rid football of the:

mindless overt racism that saw our black players being regularly subjected to aggressive racist abuse from both fans and to a lesser extent, their fellow players on the pitch. Since then, the work that has been done across football, to rid the game of these forms of racism. has seen significant cultural change in the game as a whole and specifically in our stadia.[3]

4. We heard from Paul Elliott, former player for Celtic and Chelsea, that his generation of players (competing in the late 1980s and 1990s) had to " put up with it" when they were subject to racial abuse.[4] Gordon Taylor, of the Professional Footballers Association, contrasted this with the attitude of today's players saying that:

Today's generation of black players are far less prepared to do that or accept it as banter and that is what we are facing now, because it is a different generation.[5]

5. The Premier and Football Leagues both cited Home Office statistics that "show the number of arrests at football matches have been falling year on year and is currently at the lowest level [3,089] since records began in 1984-1985".[6] The number of arrests made at football matches as the result of racial or indecent chanting had "remained low" according to the Football League. During the 2010/11 season there were 16 arrests at Football League matches and 23 at Premier League matches on or near the grounds.[7] According to the Premier League, 20% of its matches witnessed one or more arrests.[8] The FA told us that in total 43 arrests were made as a result of racist or indecent chanting during the 2010/11 season compared to 31 arrests in the 2009/10 season.[9]

6. Indeed, John Mann MP, Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism, acknowledged in his report on 'Tackling Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Football', 2010:

Football has moved well beyond most other institutions in recognising the importance of tackling racism and as the country's most recognisable export, it has developed an intolerance to racism that exceeds the standards of most other national football associations.[10]

7. In some institutional aspects, football in general is ahead of other sports in its attempts to tackle racism. In 2008, the FA established a national Race Equality Advisory Group (REAG) to advise the FA board. It remains the only national sports governing body to have appointed a REAG. The current Chairman, Lord Ouseley, represents the REAG on the FA Council. In addition, there are now 10 County Football Associations which have local Race and/or Equality Advisory Groups (R/EAGs). As far as is known, football is the only sport to introduce local advisory groups with a focus on equality, and specifically race equality.

8. Other factors have had an impact on the incidence of racist abuse and assaults. The significant increase in the number of footballers from black, Asian and other minority backgrounds which resulted from the 'Bosman ruling'[11] in the 1990s was one important factor.[12] In addition, the introduction of all-seater stadia changed the atmosphere within grounds and allowed perpetrators to be more easily identified.


9. While the general perception was that racism was less widespread than it used to be, Show Racism the Red Card, the prominent anti-racist charity, asserted that the problem persisted: "Many football clubs have done great work over the years ... to help educate against racism .... However, this work is quickly undermined by a lack of action or dismissive words when an incident occurs".[13] According to their research, many of those working in and around football had immediately dismissed accusations of racism, issuing defences such as "I know him and he's not racist", classifying exchanges as "banter" or arguing that "What happens on the pitch stays on the pitch".[14] Moreover, we were told that the FA could not "enforce change at club-level, which leads to cycles of abdication and responsibility".[15]

10. The three main areas where racist behaviour has been visible have been on the streets, in the grounds and online. Football-related incidents can have a much broader impact than just within football grounds. The public disorder in some towns in the north of the country which occurred over the summer of 2001 was initially triggered by a group of football supporters and far right extremists attacking an area of Oldham. The reasons behind the attack were not football-related. However, the incident demonstrates the interplay between football and tensions in the wider community. Brendon Batson MBE, former professional player and administrator at the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA), told us that he recalled, in the mid-70s, "being called the N-word, week in, week out".[16] While it is apparent that the situation on the pitch has moved on considerably from that time, there are still individual instances of on-the-pitch racial abuse.

11. The internet and social media have become both a means by which racist abuse can be spread and a source of positive information and support for victims. They also represent a new means by which incidents can be reported. 'True Vision'—which is a website operated by the Association of Chief Police Officers—is an example of the way the internet can be used as a positive tool for tackling racism by providing information to victims and allowing people to report race crimes online. By January 2012, over 1,300 reports of crime had been made through True Vision (about 300 of which related to online offences).[17]

12. There need to be clear and consistent methods for reporting criminal behaviour including racist abuse linked to football. We recommend that the FA promote existing methods for doing so, including by providing clear links through its website to the Association of Chief Police Officers' True Vision website, directing users to report racist or other abusive behaviour linked to football.

13. The Football Association ought to grasp the opportunity afforded by social media to speak out against incidents of abuse and discrimination within football. We recommend that it use platforms such as Twitter and Football Online chat-rooms to condemn racist, sexist, homophobic or other abuse swiftly and decisively when they occur.


14. Some of our witnesses cautioned against complacency over issues of racism.[18] Though largely positive about the steps which had been taken thus far, The All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-semitism (APPGAA) pointed to evidence received by us as a part of our inquiry into football governance in 2011, which, it argued, suggested that some authorities ran the risk of complacency.[19] It gave as an example of this a quote from the evidence presented by The League Managers Association which stated that:

Racial abuse has now thankfully been all but eradicated from our stadia, thanks to Kick it Out campaign and the FA's Ethics and Sports Equity Strategy.[20]

15. Football is not the source of racism, but it has all too easily provided a platform for extremist groups to promote their racist views and behaviour. It is essential, therefore, that authorities—at all levels of the game—take responsibility for proactively tackling all forms of discrimination including racism. While all football authorities, supporters' and players' groups must take positive action against racist behaviour, it is vital that the Football Association takes the lead and sets a strong example for others to follow.

16. Great strides have been made towards making football a powerful source of positive information and leadership against discrimination. However, the FA should avoid complacency. There are still reforms which are needed and systems to be put in place, which are covered in the remainder of this report, and achieving these quickly will require the strong leadership of football's governing body.

The wider problem

17. The problem of discrimination in football—and, indeed, in sport more widely—goes beyond racism. Football has traditionally been a male activity both in terms of players and spectators. The Premier League's most recent attendance survey showed that 23% of the League's match-attending fans and 37% of non-match-attending fans were female.[21] Despite the gender imbalance, there has been significant change in the audience for football. This has altered the atmosphere during matches as well as increasing the demand for further improvements. Gordon Taylor spoke about the "civilisation of the game" which was resulting from more women and families attending matches. He described the "current challenge" for the clubs as being to ensure that the sort of "banter that involves racism, homophobia or other different elements—of course against females as well—that it just is not part of the game's vocabulary".[22]


18. Evidence is now emerging that homophobia may now be a bigger problem in football than other forms of discrimination. Recent research found that 25% of fans think that football is homophobic while 10% think that football is racist.[23] About 14% of recent match attendees also reported hearing homophobic abuse.[24] Stonewall recognised that "progress has been made by Government and football authorities in recognising homophobia as an issue, but too little practical action has been taken to address it".[25] It called for a high-profile campaign specifically focused on challenging homophobic attitudes and behaviour directed at fans, players and managers. As well as raising the profile of the issue, the football authorities and individual clubs should be required actively to address homophobic incidents as well as to offer support to players, staff and managers.[26]

19. The FA should work with relevant organisations and charities to develop and then promote a high-profile campaign to highlight the damaging effect of homophobic language and behaviour in and around football at every level. The campaign should identify sources of support for affected individuals as well as setting out a clear reporting structure for homophobic incidents.

1   Ev 33, para 1 Back

2   Ev 34, para 2 Back

3   Ev 26, para 1.2 Back

4   Q 3 Back

5   Q 9 Back

6   Ev w7 , para 4.4 and Ev w26, para 7. The figures cited by the Leagues were obtained from the Home Office's UK Football Policing Unit. Back

7   Ev w7, para 4.4 and Ev w26, para 7 Back

8   Ev w26, para 7 Back

9   Ev 27, para 2.2.3 Back

10   Ev w6, para 3.5 Back

11   Ev w1, para 3.1 Back

12   The 'Bosman ruling' resulted from a case in the European Court of Justice in 1995 after which restrictions on foreign players within national leagues were banned.  Back

13   Ev w2, para 3.2 Back

14   Ev w2, para 3.6 Back

15   Ev w10 Back

16   Ev 26 Back

17   Ev w13, para 3.1 Back

18   Ev w12, para 1.8 Back

19   Ev w12 and FG Ev 38, para 1.2 Back

20   House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Football Governance, Seventh Report of Session 2010-12, Vol I, HC 792-1, Ev 38, para 1.2 Back

21   Ev w25, para 6 Back

22   Q 10 Back

23   Ev w8, para 1.10 Back

24   IbidBack

25   IbidBack

26   IbidBack

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© Parliamentary copyright 2012
Prepared 19 September 2012