Revered by many, black Arsenal and England legend Ian Wright has had an illustrious career warranting multiple titles and scoring 324 goals in the process.
This May, he was called a “monkey” over social media by a teenager.
Methods of racism in football have evolved from solely being spewed in the stands and in the pubs, racist rhetoric also now emerges in the realms of social media. The ease of hiding behind a virtual barrier and unknown aliases encourages imbeciles to discharge irrational hate.
However, in today’s society racism is not exclusively bound by a political party, centralised group or idiots on Twitter. It rather makes up a poisonous psyche that’s materialised through discriminative narratives, unfair bias and intangible prejudice.
These factors are personified through the press. When black Manchester City winger, Raheem Sterling, was racially abused at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge in 2018, he stated this was a result of some sections of the media helping to “fuel racism” with their portrayal of young black footballers.
Sterling has often been thrust under an intense media spotlight for a plethora of non-issues – from being ‘caught’ shopping at Poundland, to the “blinging” house he bought for his mother, up until just before the last World Cup when he was criticised for having a tattoo of a gun on his calf as it was said to glamorise guns and gang violence.
If say, a young white player, was found shopping at Poundland, buying his mum a house or having a dodgy tattoo, would these non-stories have made headlines?
It’s said that in the United Kingdom we do not witness the same extent of racism in football as other European nations. Recently in Portugal, FC Porto striker Moussa Marega was the subject of widespread racist abuse at a match that was so intense, Marega walked off the pitch in protest. Meanwhile in Italy, racism has been defended by supporters’ groups and even owners of clubs in what some have described as a culture war.
Although we’ve not seen players leaving the pitch in protest on our shores, nor do supporter groups and club owners defend racism in the UK, racism makes its way into the mainstream through other routes.
These routes are complex, often disputed and potentially incendiary, but football appears to have much deeper and more ingrained problems with racial prejudice than we readily acknowledge.
More prominent and subtler biases are found in wishy-washy articles and inappropriate, outdated dialogue. Yet this form is equally destructive and in turn creates a culture where irrational distaste becomes increasingly acceptable and can lead to rises in racist incidents – as seen with Ian Wright on Twitter and Raheem Sterling at Chelsea.
Last season, racist football incidents saw a sharp 50% increase, with 150 reported to police. In response to these figures, a spokesperson for football equality and inclusion organisation, Kick It Out, stated: “Racism is both a football and societal issue, and it is clear that we are living in a climate of rising hatred and tribalism across the world.”
This is worrying. Although the Premier League and Football Association (FA) can point to their ever-increasing £270,000 per annum funding of Kick It Out, their No Room for Racism campaign and the introduction of the BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) Participants’ Advisory Group, the current landscape suggests more needs to be done.
While these campaigns all play a significant part in the fight to eradicate racism from football, they are less effective in nipping prejudice in the bud. Calling out subtler racist narratives is essential if this is to be achieved. However, this is easier said than done. Actively boycotting newspapers sounds like a simple solution, but has Orwellian undertones and can be seen as an attack on free speech.
Change must come through education. In spite of complications and negative statistics, the last couple of weeks have been encouraging and we have seen excellent progress for the beginnings of a cultural shift.
The tragic and racist killing of George Floyd has fuelled the fire for worldwide awareness of black issues. Black Lives Matter rallies have transcended borders, and we have even seen support from the Premier League with footballers posting on social media, taking a knee in solidarity and wearing “Black Lives Matter” on the backs of their shirts.
In turn of these events, Ian Wright has stated he is “very optimistic about the future” but “can’t stress enough how important it is for the momentum to not be lost”.
The growing momentum and work currently being put in place is essential in creating an ethos for future generations to understand, call out and ultimately show racism the red card.