A report from Kick It Out, the anti-discrimination charity, found that reports of racism in English football rose by 43% last season, from 192 instances to 274. Meanwhile, reports of faith-based discrimination rose by 75% from 36 instances to 63. It is the seventh consecutive year that reported incidents of discrimination in football have increased.

This begs the question, what are the footballing authorities, clubs, players and fans doing to combat discrimination in football?

Footballing authorities

The FA has introduced various new rules ahead of the start of the 2019/20 season. Perhaps most notably, the FA has increased the minimum ban for racist abuse. Since 2013, players guilty of racism have been banned for five matches under FA Rule E3(3). This has been increased to a minimum of six matches and now also covers any discrimination aimed at a person’s gender, sexuality, religious beliefs or disability.

Consistent with the previous rules, where a player is found guilty of a second offence, a 10-match ban (as a minimum) will be imposed.

This summer, FIFA increased its minimum ban for incidents of discrimination to 10 matches. This is double its previous minimum ban. FIFA will also invite victims of abuse to provide witness statements to the disciplinary panel. FIFA’s code now contains specific language, which includes sexual orientation as a type of discrimination. It is good to see both FIFA and the FA equipping themselves with the power to impose tougher sanctions for discrimination through their respective regulations.

Clubs

The FA has also fined Millwall FC £10,000 over alleged racist chanting from the club’s supporters in their FA Cup fourth-round fixture last season. Millwall was charged with a breach of FA Rule E20, under which the club is held responsible for the actions of its supporters in the event that they engage in abusive behaviour. The written reasons given in the case refer to a “short-lived incident” involving 14-seconds of chanting by a small section of the crowd. The chanting stopped after objections from other supporters sitting in the same area.

The FA also ordered Millwall to implement an “action plan”, which includes the following obligations on the club to:

  • introduce improved CCTV systems by the beginning of this season;
  • visit other clubs to seek best practice to incorporate into Millwall’s policies and procedures;
  • continue its dialogue with Kick It Out and enhance this relationship;
  • fully establish and develop the Millwall multi agency anti-discrimination focus group;
  • utilise its match day PA announcements, LED boards, big screens, match day programmes and social media to target the prevention and detection of discriminatory behaviour;
  • improve steward deployment plans; and
  • introduce steward body cams and professional witnesses to detect and evidence discriminatory behaviour.

The FA’s decision imposes practical obligations on Millwall so that the club can improve its current practices, improve awareness and introduce systems to identify and hold fans accountable for their behaviour. The effect of this should be greater than merely fining a club a “pittance”, as described by Ian Wright. Where fans conduct themselves in this way, clubs must ensure they have adequate systems in place to identify guilty parties to (a) ban them from matches, and (b) refer them onto the police.

Players

Last season, Danny Rose revealed he has “had enough” and “can’t wait to see the back of [football]”. Rose’s comments came after being racially abused by away fans during England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro. UEFA fined Montenegro €20,000 as a result. Rose was “lost for words” at the light punishment

In response, players – in collaboration with the PFA – boycotted social media for 24 hours as part of the #Enough campaign after a number of high-profile incidents of racial abuse against players. The campaign was a coordinated effort between players and the players’ association. It was effective in achieving greater awareness and adding pressure on authorities to do more.

Hope for the future?

There are a number of reasons to be encouraged: the racist chants from some Millwall fans were quickly reported by fellow fans who did not tolerate the behaviour, players are taking it upon themselves to compel change and governing bodies are increasing their minimum sanctions for players found guilty of discrimination.

However, there are still gaps to be plugged. Fines alone do not appear to provide a sufficient deterrent to discriminatory behaviour, particularly when it is the clubs picking up the tab. Meanwhile, Kick It Out receives only £800,000 in funding from English football’s governing bodies and institutions, which significantly limits the impact it can have.

As we embark on a new season, it is important that all stakeholders in football play their role in combatting racism.