Discrimination in football is no joke – in Sheffield or anywhere else

In the early 1990s as part of my work, in driving forward the anti-discrimination and equality agenda here in South Yorkshire and the UK, I was supporting national working groups focusing upon the field of sports and in particular-football (writes Chrissy Meleady).

Saturday, 20th April 2019, 09:10 am
Updated Saturday, 20th April 2019, 09:19 am
Move against racism in football

This was aligned to Hermann Ousely becoming the Chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, and Hermann taking the initiative to ask 92 clubs in the EFL and the then newly-formed Premier League, to join a campaign to ‘tackle the worst excesses of racial abuse, harassment and violence in football’.

At the same time, we were working to include other discriminations in to this way of working. However, it was telling to us all, at the time, that only 50 football clubs joined up for the campaign, when in 1993 this initiative was launched by the CRE with the co-sponsorship support of the Professional Footballers Association and their Gordon Taylor, and the Football Trust and their Richard Faulkner (now called the Football Foundation), along with the footballers John Fashanu and Paul Elliott.

Director of Equalities and Human Rights UKChrissyMeleady

Sheffield Racial Equality Council was also in active support of this project which four years later became Kick It Out, expanding to include all forms of discrimination in football.

For decades racism in football, on and off the pitch, had been taken in many areas as an ‘accepted norm’ and as part of the ‘banter of football’. Defended as such even in circles in the regulatory influences overseeing the sport.

Black and other minority ethnic players, and other on field professionals such as referees, were expected to not only put up with abuse, they were condemned for complaining about racism, discrimination and harassment that they and others were forced to endure.

Representation of black and other minority ethnic people in management and other influential positions in football was gravely lacking. Likewise, those subjected to homophobia were similarly mistreated. Gender equality too was remiss.

A sexist, macho, racist and homophobic ethos was the order of the day. It should be remembered that sectarianism in football exists not only in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Discrimination has leaked across England and Wales.

The journey has been a long and enduring one and at times, in my role in equalities and human rights, I have continued to be obliged to challenge ongoing racism and other discriminations, some sadly close to home.

They included that of Ron Atkinson, who in 2004 described Marcel Desailly, a black footballer, as ‘a f****** thick lazy n*****’. Then in 2005, he expressed racism to an audience in Sheffield Wednesday by saying: "Chinese people have the best contraception in the world - but I can't understand why there's so many of them because their women are so ugly."

Despite the endeavours of football clubs and their partners since the 1993 launch to eradicate racism, other forms of discrimination and hate out of football, we have of late, and especially since Brexit was proposed, been seeing a resurgence of overt forms of racism and discrimination on the rise, inclusive of anti-black racism and Islamophobia.

Again, close to home, has been the case of Brian Jones, a senior FA Council member who has recently been charged with breaching FA Rule 3, after one of his staff rightly complained about him sharing Islamophobic comments - a ’joke’, on social media. 

Brian Jones had shared these comments, it is understood, while in his role as chairman of Sheffield and Hallamshire FA.

This follows Raheem Sterling identifying that he was called a ‘Black c***’ by Chelsea fans in the thirty-seventh minute of a game between Chelsea and Manchester City, and a banana skin being hurled at Pierre Emerick Aubameyang by a Tottenham fan as he celebrated the first of two goals, in a 2018 North London derby, mirroring years of banana throwing at other players and black referees too, in games across the UK.

Other recent racial abuse was complained of by Duane Holmes – a Derby midfielder, and Wigan player Nathan Byrne.

The FA have been giving the racial abuse and discrimination due regard, and they agreed in November 2018, to look into the anti-Irish racist abuse suffered by James McClean throughout his seven years in English football, including the incident at Huddersfield Town in which fans pelted him with missiles.

The FA decided to act following a joint statement issued by Show Racism the Red Card UK and Show Racism the Red Card Ireland, and the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland, calling for a more robust approach to the racial abuse faced by McClean.

Now, the racist hate of ‘fans’ is spewing towards mixed-race children of black footballers, with the recent targeting and abuse of Cassius, aged 13, and Prince, 11, who are the children of Djbril and Jude Cisse.

Racism, Islamophobia and other forms of discrimination in football are no ‘joke’ and all football clubs, associations, and society as a whole, need to increase their endeavours to eliminate it.  

Those in positions of influence have an inherent duty in this regard and ought at all times to be leading by example. Nothing less is acceptable.