House of Lords Library

Racism in Football: Tackling Abusive Behaviour

Published Tuesday, January 14, 2020

This House of Lords Library Briefing describes recent measures introduced by the footballing authorities, individual clubs and social media companies to tackle racism in football, and details existing legislation in this area.

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In recent months, several football matches have been disrupted by racist incidents. This included a Euro 2020 qualifying match between Bulgaria and England in October 2019, which had to be stopped twice due to racist chanting aimed at some England players. Bulgaria were already serving a partial stadium ban after some of their fans had been found guilty of racism previously. In the same month, an FA Cup fourth qualifying round match between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town was abandoned after the home team walked off the pitch, alleging racist abuse towards their players.

Recent data provided by the Home Office and Kick It Out suggests that the number of racist incidents in the sport is increasing. However, this has been attributed in part to improvements in reporting such occurrences.

Existing legislation covers some incidents of racism in football in the United Kingdom. For example, under the Public Order Act 1986 it is an offence to use abusive, insulting, or threatening words or behaviour that intends to or causes another person alarm, distress, or harassment. In addition, the Football Spectators Act 1989 provides that certain offences be accompanied by a football banning order. This has been used to prevent violence or disorder in and around football stadiums.

The footballing authorities have also introduced measures to combat racism in football. This includes a three-step protocol to tackle discrimination at football matches, which can lead to referees abandoning the matches. More recently, the FA has introduced a ten-match suspension for coaches and players found guilty of discriminatory behaviour.

Football clubs have also acted to tackle discriminatory behaviour from their own supporters. This has ranged from stadium bans to starting their own education schemes. For example, in January 2019, Chelsea started the ‘Say No to Anti-Semitism’ scheme, seeking to raise awareness of antisemitism and its impact on the Jewish community and wider society. It also provides one-to-one education courses to supporters.

Despite the measures in place, those involved in the sport have called on footballing authorities to do more. In October 2019, Raheem Sterling, who was one of the English players racially abused in Bulgaria, signed a manifesto calling for “fundamental changes” in how football tackles racism. The manifesto called for further sanctions for racism, beginning with a minimum partial stadium closure rising to expulsion from a competition for repeat offences or for mass discriminatory chanting.

Lords Library notes LLN-2020-0012

Author: Eren Waitzman

Topic: Public order offences

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