[Author- Archit Uniyal, a Penultimate year student of Law at Jindal Global Law School]
Racism remains one of the most problematic socio-political issues in the world today, specifically in the football community. English Football has tried to manage the challenges posed by racism taking place in football matches to some extent, however, there has been an increase in the level of racism targeted towards footballers on social media platforms. The problem of racism, towards footballers playing in the English Premier League, on social media, is a worldwide issue, considering that English Football has global outreach and audience.
It is believed that due to their weak anti-racism and anti-discrimination rules, social networking sites like Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter have become ‘havens for abuse’ and their tolerance towards discriminatory messages, and inaction against such users, has allowed racism to thrive online and the abusers to go unpunished. These sites have provided a new platform for hate groups to spread racial slurs and hatred through their digital media accounts.
In 2020, an anti-racism organisation ‘Kick it Out’ published that around 43% of players playing in England have been victims of online racist attacks. Earlier in February this year, Axel Tuanzebe, a Manchester United defender was racially abused on social media after his mistake led to Everton’s 3rd goal in the stoppage time which resulted in a 3-3 draw between the teams, hampering Manchester United’s chances for a title charge. This was not the first instance of Tuanzebe being targeted online; he was also racially abused in January, after Sheffield United beat Manchester United 2-1. In the past few weeks, several other premier league players such as Marcus Rashford, Reece James, Anthony Martial, etc. have been subjected to racial abuse on social media.
The reaction of the Governing Bodies
These incidents have forced most of the Premier League Clubs, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA), the Football Association (FA), World players’ union ‘FIFPro’ and ‘Kick It Out’ to ask the Twitter and Facebook CEOs for stricter actions to be taken against the perpetrators. The FA, which is English football’s governing body demand these social media sites to amend their rules, block, and filter racist or discriminatory messages/posts so that online racism can come to an end. The FA and PFA believe that these portals need to have a reliable verification process so that the law enforcement agencies can track down the perpetrators easily, to ensure that people do not spread hate.
The lack of stringent laws on these social media platforms could be seen from the incident when Swansea player Yan Dhanda was racially abused online, but the perpetrator’s Instagram account wasn’t disabled and only his messaging feature was disabled for an unstated time. The Premier League and the FA welcomed the new online bullying bill which will fine the social media companies for failing to protect their users. The new law will hold the social media companies accountable if such online abuse continues and will be fined up to 10% of their total turnover or 18 million pounds for incidents where footballers are racially abused on their platforms.
Reaction from the Social Media Platforms
Twitter in 2019 had removed 700 tweets related to English Football on basis of abuse and hateful conduct and promised to continue its fight to curb the issue. Instagram in February announced new measures for the fight against online racism, including removal of accounts if they send abusive messages and introduction of controls which will hide the abuses from people. Instagram and Facebook recently announced their new rules after these incidents in February. The new rules envisage that in case of an abusive message in the comments sections or direct messaging, the perpetrator’s account will be deleted permanently.
Rule E3(1) and E3(2) of the FA rules covers the conduct by a person on and off the field, and if the behaviour or insulting words used by the participant include a reference to the victim’s colour or race, the player can be banned for a minimum of 5 matches under E3(2).
Article 4 of the FIFA Statutes covers FIFA’s stance against on field racism; if found guilty the perpetrator shall be liable for expulsion and suspensions.
Before asking social media platforms to make changes, the English Football needs to amend its programs for education regarding racism. Recently Edinson Cavani was banned for 3 matches for using the word ‘negerito’, a term of endearment in his native Uruguay, but considered discriminatory in the whole of Europe. Earlier in 2011, a similar incident had taken place involving his fellow Uruguayan teammate, Luis Suarez. This shows the lack of education and awareness that the clubs provide to their foreign signings, regarding terminology which may not be acceptable. The FA now intends to adopt a more proactive role in providing governance and guidance on this issue, and hence introduced its No Room for Racism Action Plan to achieve the objective of eradicating prejudices and the same was backed by all the PL clubs.
To eradicate an innate problem like racism, all the stakeholders involved in the game of football need to take collective efforts. The regulatory bodies need to take charge and ensure that measures are taken to raise awareness amongst players and fans, while also ensuring that adequate sanctions are imposed against violations. The players should report any such act they witness.
Simultaneously, social media platforms should strengthen their policy against racist conduct, considering their role in the world today, and make it easier for enforcement bodies to track down the perpetrators by having a reliable verification process on their sites. All stakeholders must do their part to ensure that racism is completely eradicated from the beautiful game and everywhere else.
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PREFERRED CITATION: Archit Uniyal, Tackling ‘Havens for Abuse’ – Fight of English Football against Online Racism, SLPRR, <https://sportslawandpolicyreviewreporter.com/?p=1476> May 18, 2021.
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