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Dr Jamie Cleland. Photo by Andrew Weekes Photography.

Racism still rife in football, says Loughborough University academic

Racism in British football is still rife despite the efforts of campaigners to stamp it out over the last 20 years, according to research by a Loughborough University academic.

Dr Jamie Cleland says that more than 80 per cent of fans who took part in his study said that racism was still endemic in British football, while half said they had experienced racism in the last two years.

He said football’s governing bodies, and anti-racist organisations like Kick It Out, have contributed to a culture of complacency and that racism has been ‘disregarded’ or ‘suppressed’ to ‘give the impression it had been eradicated’.

The study also says the fans want stronger leadership from the governing bodies like FIFA, UEFA and the FA and a ‘zero tolerance’ stance on racism with points deductions, bigger fines and life-bans introduced for supporters found guilty of a racist act.

Dr Cleland’s survey comes after some high profile controversies involving the likes of John Terry and Anton Ferdinand, and Luis Suarez and Patrice Evra, as well as other examples, including former Gillingham striker Mark McCammon.

Dr Cleland, a lecturer in Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences, conducted an anonymous online poll of 2,500 fans across the country in collaboration with Professor Ellis Cashmore of Staffordshire University. The study will be published online by the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies on Wednesday.

They asked fans for their views on a range of topics, like the role of Kick It Out, and also whether they had witnessed or experienced racism at a football match.

The findings included the following:

  • 83-per-cent said racism had never left British football and is culturally embedded in the game
  • 50-per-cent said they had witnessed or experienced racism since 2010.
  • There is now a ‘colour blind’ approach towards the existence of racism, with the governing bodies and anti-racist organisations failing to acknowledge its existence.
  • Older and overt types of racism have been supplemented by ‘nuanced and covert forms’.
  • 80-per-cent of fans said the advent of social media had offered people a new avenue to communicate racist thoughts and was making it harder to tackle racism.
  • 76-per-cent of fans said organisations like FIFA and UEFA were reluctant to challenge racism.
  • 79-per-cent of fans said Kick It Out had only been partially effective in tackling racial inequality. One said it had become ‘nothing more than a PR t-shirt wearing exercise’.
  • Fans demanded greater leadership and stronger action from the governing bodies and a ‘zero tolerance’ approach.
  • Fans wanted stewards to be properly paid and trained because at the moment action against racist fans was more likely to come from fellow fans than the stewards.

Summarising their findings, Dr Cleland says the governing bodies are ‘not doing anything meaningful to tackle racism’ and that football remains a white institution, from the heads of FIFA, UEFA and the FA, through to club owners, directors, referees and fans.

He says the data backs up previous studies which argue that a ‘colour blind’ ideology now exists in football due to the failure of the governing bodies and anti-racist organisations to acknowledge the extent of racism, which is subsequently allowing it to flourish.

Fans said that as a result stewards were reluctant to challenge racist behaviour, with one Norwich fan revealing that when he confronted racist fans he was ‘abused by a steward who threatened police action for incitement.’

Dr Cleland said fans were demanding stronger leadership and greater action from the governing bodies to break their ‘colour blind’ reaction to racism. They wanted the powers-that-be to enforce racial equality initiatives and take severe action against any fan, player or club that broke the code of conduct.

Dr Cleland agreed with the fans who argued that the commercialisation of football, led by the multi-billion pound Premier League, seemed to have taken precedence over racial equality.
He said the FA was now at a crossroads and had to make a decision over what to do with Kick It Out, which has a small budget and staff and is funded by the FA, the Premier League and the Professional Footballers’ Association.

He said Kick It Out were unlikely to criticise the organisations which fund it, adding: “The FA are faced with a key decision, do they take it in-house or make it a fully independent body?”

Dr Cleland says racism is ‘culturally embedded in the British game, and through social media and other subtle forms, it is becoming harder to tackle’.

He said football seems ‘out of sync’ with Britain’s multi-cultural environment’ adding: “British society has reached some accommodation with its ethnically diverse population and its religious plurali