Kick it Out: How discrimination in football is being tackled one-on-one

March 29th, 2022

When England were beaten on penalties in the European Championships final last summer, the abuse was instantaneous.

Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, who had penalties saved, and Marcus Rashford, who missed his effort, were subjected to a torrent of hate-filled messages on social media.

At the time, the racist abuse directed at England’s black players was the most high profile, ugly example of it.

The UK Football Policing Unit said they received 600 reports of racist comments sent to the trio after the defeat. Of those, 207 were judged to be criminal.

Among them was 52-year-old Jonathon Best who livestreamed his abuse on Facebook. He was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison in November.

Widescale abuse has become commonplace in the game, leading Manchester City and England striker Raheem Sterling to call it a “disease” in society.

Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha is among the leading voices that have has called for “action”, “education” and “change”.

A 12-year-old boy who sent racist messages to Zaha received education sessions “as part of the restorative justice process”.

That education was delivered by anti-discrimination charity Kick it Out and is one programme that authorities are turning to, to tackle abuse.

Kick it Out’s fan education and engagement manager Alan Bush deals with referrals.

“It’s very much trying to get them to have a look at their behaviour and what they’ve said, to try and get them to understand that the action or the act that they’ve taken part in is offensive, is hurtful and is against the law,” Bush said.

“We’ve done some work with a 12-year-old on a youth conditional caution. He said something nine months ago and he has had three sessions. He has grown from the first session to the third session.”

The programme, which has run for more than two years and has dealt with people aged between 12 and 64 years old, is the only one in football which offered one-on-one “rehabilitative sessions”.

Kick it Out said around 20% of attendees are aged under 18, around 25% are aged between 18 and 30, and those who are over 50 make up 12%.

Bush says he is “careful not to label people” who come into the programme, despite what led to them being there.

“I want them to learn,” said Bush, who has hosted about 60 educational sessions.

“I want them to see that they may not see themselves as racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic – but what they are is an individual who has delivered something in the stadium, online, and the act would have been discriminatory.”

People in the programme are made to take responsibility for what they have done, to talk through the reasons for being there and confront other examples of discrimination in the game.

The image of John Barnes back-heeling a banana off the pitch – a picture that captures the abuse the former England and Liverpool forward faced during his career – is one infamous example used.


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