English football clubs from the major leagues, including the Premier League and EFL (English Football League Championship), held a three-day social media boycott in a show of solidarity against growing online racism.
Support for the boycott
The blackout, involving the suspension of all social media accounts, also included Kick It Out, Women in Football, the Professional Footballers’ Association, and the Football Supporters’ Association. The boycott began at 14.00 GMT on Friday, April 30 and ran until 22.59 GMT on Monday, May 3.
This collective move followed individual social media boycotts by Swansea City AFC and called for more action from the football governing bodies, as the number of players being racially abused online has been growing at an alarming rate, with the likes of Marcus Rashford, Wilfried Zaha and Tyrone Mings being targeted in recent times.
The organisations’ joint statement
“The boycott shows English football coming together to emphasise that social media companies must do more to eradicate online hate, while highlighting the importance of educating people in the ongoing fight against discrimination. Boycott action from football in isolation will, of course, not eradicate the scourge of online discriminatory abuse, but it will demonstrate that the game is willing to take voluntary and proactive steps in this continued fight.”
Aratrust calls for united action
Aratrust welcomes the football community’s united stand against racism and the collective call for social media firms to do more to stamp out the repugnant daily abuse on their platforms. Collective unity against racism from all in football couldn’t be more important with a report from Kick it Out in 2020 revealing some shocking statistics:
- in the professional game, we saw a 42% increase in reports of discrimination in total, up from 313 to 446. There was also a 53% increase in reported racial abuse in the professional game between that season and the previous one, up from 184 to 282.
The report further highlighted the extent of racism within the game with an increasing number of cases of racial abuse being reported on social media:
- during the 2019-2020 football season, 30% of the fans who reported said they’d witnessed racist comments or chants at a football match, and a staggering 71% of those questioned also said they had witnessed racist comments on social media directed at a footballer. A further 51% of fans had also witnessed racism directed at a fan of a different team to theirs on social media.
How YOU can report racism and other abuse in football
You can report any type of discrimination in football, whether it happened online, at a non-league or at a professional game, by completing the online reporting form on Kick It Out’s Report It! tab on their website: https://www.kickitout.org/forms/online-reporting-form
By reporting abuse when you see it, whether it is racism, homophobia or sexism, you are playing YOUR part in tackling discrimination and letting others know that it won’t be tolerated in football at any level.
Every year, Kick It Out publishes a summary of the reports of discrimination that the organisation has received during the season.
Positive steps against racism
Aratrust welcomes other positive steps in opposing racism on and off the pitch including:
- the promotion of educational programmes with the aim of educating people of different ages, colour and social class about the damage that racism causes not only in football but in society, and the positivity of racial unity and collaboration. Show Racism the Red Card runs educational workshops tailored specifically for football clubs, players, coaches and referees. https://www.theredcard.org/challengingracisminfootball
- the organisation and promotion of projects and blogs opposing racism and drawing awareness to key messages/topics involving important parties, including football supporter organisations. As we learnt with the collapse of the formation of the European Super League, football is nothing without the fans. The Football Supporters Association has written blogs about their work campaigning for diversity and tackling discrimination, and working with clubs such as Cardiff City FC to promote diversity and inclusion across the football pyramid, especially with their initiative of My City, My Shirt, which aims to highlight the experiences of supporters from all walks of life and make football as inclusive and diverse as possible.
Ranging from hosting events with club officials to the creation of fan groups to provide a safe space to discuss the concerns of under-represented football fans, the project has been successful at celebrating the multi-ethnic and diverse nature of the fans who love their local team just as much as everyone else.
- the mass media collaborating with and dedicating resources to anti-racist organisations to better inform about racism not only in Football but in wider society (Sky forming a three-year partnership with Kick It Out in a drive for inclusion in football and the battle against discrimination in all its forms. Commitment of £3million making it easier for football supporters to report incidents of discrimination) https://www.skysports.com/football/news/11095/12168556/anti-racism-group-kick-it-out-forms-three-year-partnership-with-sky
- as well as calling for the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to work harder on the problem, the UK government should ensure that its new Online Safety Bill will force social media companies to be more accountable for the abuse on their platforms. The Online Harms legislation will essentially impose a duty of care on social media companies (and other platforms) to identify and remove racist and other illegal content. A European equivalent law is also being progressed. Change is coming and the online platforms are well aware of that. Amongst the sanctions which would be available are fines of up to £18 million or 10% of global annual turnover, whichever is the higher.
The need to push forward
The fact that racism and online abuse is finally being discussed by the leading organisations in the game can only be a step in the right direction. It is now important that footballing organisations and clubs continue to push this message forward as, just two days after English Football’s united stand against racism with the 3-day social media boycott, Raheem Sterling again became the victim of vile racist abuse on social media.
Facebook said their commitment to tacking online abuse is still ongoing and reiterated, ‘No single thing will fix this challenge overnight but we’re committed to doing what we can to keep our community safe from abuse‘.
The boycott is a start but let’s make sure we all use our influence as anti-racist organisations, fans, clubs and social media firms to ensure that abuse is not tolerated in our beautiful game.
Ex-Arsenal-player-turned-manager, Thierry Henry, one of the first to take a stand against online racist abuse
Before the football-wide social media blackout, it was Thierry Henry who, at the end of March 2021, decided enough was enough and deleted his social media accounts to take a stand against the growing level of racist online abuse aimed predominantly at black footballers. Thierry felt disappointed at what he considered an unacceptable response by social media firms at holding users accountable for their actions online.
Thierry echoes the power of unity and uses the social media blackout as an example of what can be achieved when we come together as a community. A week before the boycott, Thierry stated: “I like the fact that people actually realise that when we come together, it’s powerful. I realised that maybe me coming of it might create a little wave in the media and it did, and making people answer some questions. So now, when I saw what’s been happening and what’s going to happen at the weekend. I was like OK, OK, it’s a start, it’s a start.”
Thierry highlights the importance of directing energy and effort to the right causes that can deliver the desired changes especially with what we have recently seen in football with both the creation and fall of the European Super League within a matter of days. He said: “A lot of people are, I’m not saying waking up because everyone was aware of it, but now they’re loud about it and the same energy that they put with the Super League. It looks like we’re getting brave into trying to make those big companies answer to the questions that we have.”
Aratrust praises the football community’s united stand against racism and calls for social media firms to do more to stamp out the racist abuse on their platforms.