Racism In British Football And The Lack Of Consequences

green football field


British football is racist and the lack of consequences for the offenders solidifies the allegation.

Whether you call it soccer or football, the English game has won the hearts of millions around the globe. However, whilst many fans are infatuated with the sport, there seems to be a strong dismissal for the not so friendly side of the once beautiful game.

Football has dominated the sports scene, but most recently it’s been dominating the news headlines – and for all the wrong reasons. An influx in extreme racial behaviour has been taking precedence during football matches and tournaments. Whether opposing or supporting a team, black players have been suffering racist behaviour, both online and in person. 

Racism within the sport is not new; black players from the 80s and undoubtably even further back have experienced this. Spanning over 40 years, the issue has not improved and it’s only getting worse. Many are calling for the lead football companies such as FIFA, the FA and UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) to take action and work to resolve this damaging issue. As managers and players can only do so much, those involved with the sport are looking for support from these organizations.

men playing football
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To put into perspective the severe level of racism within the sport, here are a few examples that occurred over the past few months.

In July, England faced Italy in the Euro 2020 final. The match came down to penalties where three of the chosen players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Sake were all black. Missing their penalties, the three received racist abuse online. Black fans shared their stories when attending the game, stating they ran and left early to avoid verbal and physical abuse. In a study conducted by YouGov for Sky Sports news, they found that 73 per cent of ethnically diverse fans planning to visit a stadium are concerned about racist abuse.

Another example of extreme racial behaviour towards players was experienced by North London football club Haringey Borough. In an FA Cup qualifying game, their goalkeeper Yalery Pajetat was the victim of racist abuse from the opposing teams’ fans. He had stones thrown at him, he was spat at and called a “black c**t”. The only action the manager, Tom Loizou deemed acceptable was to take them off. He said, “The referee had no control…The FA Cup don’t mean that much to me”.

The most recent case of racist behaviour from ‘fans’ took place earlier this month in a match between Hungary and England. England players Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham faced racist behaviour from Hungarian fans throughout the match. Paper cups and bottles were thrown at them on the pitch as well as monkey chants. The only repercussions Hungary experienced was a to play three home games behind closed doors.

Teammates and managers have expressed their feelings towards football organisations by openly sharing their disappointment towards the lenient punishments given to teams and fans for their role in racist behaviour within the sport. There are calls for more policing of such behaviour taking place within stadiums and online as the situation intensifies.

man in blue and white jersey shirt playing soccer
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First thought of as a game for the working class, football has grown to new heights over the years to bring people from all walks of life together. However, the sports once stereotyped ‘fan culture’ behaviour has become too close of a reality as it makes headlines for disgraceful, vile behaviour. Some fans’ devotions to their teams have become borderline obsessive and reached new lows with the rise in racial attacks on and off the pitch.

The so-called game for all has lacked inclusivity from the start and continues to encourage the divide. Evident by the way stadiums are segregated for teams (compared to other sports such as rugby), this separation subconsciously encourages the unacceptance of differences. This is visible by incidents where some fans have been situated with the opposing team and have been harassed and attacked during a game. Senior researcher at the University of Brighton, Dr Mark Doidge specialises in football fan culture and says “There is a particular aspect of football culture around the world which is about: we are this, you are that. It’s about superiority, masculine hierarchy.”

Whilst we know it’s not all fans that project racial abuse, many have concerns regarding it. In a survey conducted by YouGov for Sky Sports News, it was revealed that 62 per cent of match-attending fans feared a player would be racially abused. The issue is that people are almost accepting that it’s a part of the sport culture and people who take part in racial abuse are viewing it as acceptable since they either get away with it or receive minor punishments. Racist fans now have multiple avenues of reaching players to hurtle abuse at them without any sanctions – and it’s not only racism but homophobia and antisemitism.


One major concern held by managers and players is the fact that the head football organisations don’t care enough to do anything about it. All that seems to occur are statements made and little action is taken. Such behaviour visible to the football community only encourages the acceptance of such volatile behaviour. Minority players are lacking the support they need from their superiors to achieve the drastic change within the sport. 

Not only do minority football players lack support, but they also experience discrimination in various forms; whether that may be public (stadiums), private (social media), institutional (lack of management and coaching opportunities and even through the media (newspaper headlines etc). With no ability to escape or no sanctions put in place, there’s a real concern for the suicide risk to heighten, especially amongst younger players.

Not only is racist behaviour deemed acceptable within football, but also in wider society. The UK prime minister Boris Johnson has openly said racist, sexist and homophobic comments without any repercussions. In addition, there is a naivety amongst the Conservative government about the extent of racism within British society. As a result of the Black Lives Matter movement, the government created a report named The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities. The report ‘revealed’ that the UK “no longer” had a system rigged against minorities – as you can imagine it faced major backlash as many people were insulted by the reports fantasised conclusion.

It seems that leaders within society are completely out of touch with reality – to the point where it becomes dangerous, not only for minority groups but also society’s wider perception of how society functions.

green and white soccer field at night time
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Without a doubt, racism exits. But why are those in power ignoring its existence, and why are they doing nothing to prevent it? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to develop ideas and put systems in place to tackle this dominating issue not only within the sport but also society. So, what needs to happen next?

Let’s start with the football organisations. Clearly the punishments for the racist fans aren’t harsh enough. Personally, I think the identified racist fans (whether that’s in stadiums or on social media) need to be fined (money going to organisations helping to tackle racism), given community service and a lifetime ban from stadiums. I think if it continues, all fans should be punished e.g. cannot attend any games until the end of a season. The problem is, racism isn’t going to disappear overnight, so I think extreme punishments like the ones mentioned are the only way to cause a snowball effect of reflective behaviour.

Looking towards the role social media platforms play in sharing racially abuse behaviour to millions, there are a number of undeniably easy things they can do to stop the sharing of such. What frustrates me is the fact that leaders and organisations are being lenient towards the platforms when, really, we need to be forceful.

The simple act of blocking racist, homophobic, sexist etc dialogue from being typed requires minimal effort. I think that’s one step towards eradicating offensive dialogue from our vocabulary. Furthermore, platforms can even put a system in place where your account/name can be flagged up when using such language. The result is a warning, then a complete ban. In addition, these names can be sent to legal teams where they can be rightfully charged.

A major issue is that people don’t view abusive racial behaviour as a crime, when in fact it is a hate crime which can result in a sentence. You can tell when it’s becoming a part of society when you’re watching the news and it doesn’t surprise you to hear black players having bananas thrown at them, or you can hear monkey chants from the crowds. But why are fans behaving this way either towards members of the team they support or opposing players?

As someone who already despised the sport, it’s hard for me to understand why so many love it. It’s the idea of standing in a stadium as fellow supporters hear racial abuse and do nothing about it. Whilst I know it’s not all fans hurtling abuse at players, the ones who just listen are just as much to blame. We need to be made accountable for such behaviour because if it goes unaddressed, there will be no end. The beautiful game has finally lost its beauty. 

Britain is not the only place with a sport that battles racism. American athletes have been speaking out for decades on the egregious racism within basketball, baseball and football. Colin Kaepernick took a knee as a means of silent protest and all hell broke loose. Finally the NFL decided it would allow athletes to take a knee during a National Anthem that has done little to defend it’s minority players. Read more here.

This article was written by contributing writer Malin Jones. 

To check out Malin’s bio click here. 

Malin’s other posts – 

The Pfizer Boob Job | Is It A Myth?

The Race To Tour Space | Going Where Others Have Gone Before 

A Heated Olympics | The Inclusion Of Transgender Women

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Sue Dhillon is an Indian American writer, journalist, and trainer.

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