By Oluwatomiwa Babaloa
“We all must say no to racism and any form of discrimination. We all must say no to violence. Any form of violence.”
FIFA’s assurance to kick out racism is not convincing Sheffield youth charity worker, Ruth Johnson. The project coordinator for Football Unites, Racism Divides (FURD) says she blames FIFA and UEFA for the rise of racism in the beautiful game.
She claimed that the football authorities are culpable due to the mild sanctions they gave to fans found guilty of threatening the life of a football player while on or off the pitch.
This is due to the upward trend in the cases of footballers being racially abused by angry and most times unruly fans and Johnson says the high number of racist incidents is demoralising after all the hard work her charity and other organisations have done to fight it.
“We know we’ve made an impact, and we’ve also participated in efforts that have resulted in increased awareness, which I believe some of our employees have contributed to. Eventually, probably somebody will tighten the law and improve the sanctions.
I think we’ve all made a difference, but the problem is still there and seems to have got worse in the last few years, so that’s a bit demoralisingRuth Johnson
“Some of the punishments UEFA and FIFA have given over the years have been not harsh enough. Fining the club, a relatively small amount of money if some of their fans are making racist comments or abuse during matches is not enough.”
No fewer than 208 fans were banished from attending games after being caught in the act at the end of the 2020-21 campaign across English and Welsh clubs.
Birmingham City topped the chart with 27 fans banned, followed by Liverpool (18), Bolton Wanderers (17) and Stockport County (16) among others.
The coordinator believes that anyone who chants abusive comments at any footballer should be punished more harshly, adding that for anyone to set up a social media account, their identities must really be verified.
“I think they could take a harder line, but at the same time, how can FIFA or UEFA or any other football body control what everyone says on social media?
“There’s only so much they can do. One suggestion is that people should have to give their identities before they can set up a Twitter account so they can be held to account if they break the law by making racists threats.
“Obviously some people can hide behind some false identity, so there are some laws that need to be improved and some change in the policies of the social media giants could also help.”
FIFA has pledged to stop racism and violence, saying in a statement: “We all must say no to racism and any form of discrimination. We all must say no to violence. Any form of violence.”
UEFA has also condemned racism and introduced a three-step procedure for referees to deal with it. President Aleksander Ceferin has said UEFA’s sanctions are among the toughest in sport for clubs and associations whose supporters are racist at our matches.
Ruth Johnson commended clubs for suspending fans and prohibiting them from stadiums but she said many of the incidents occur outside of the stadium – in the streets, on the way to the game, or on social media at any time. She said an online crime should be treated the same as if it were done in person.
At least two in every five Premier League players who have a presence on Twitter received abusive messages last season (176 of the 400 players amounting to 44 per cent) at the end of the 2020-21 campaign, according to the findings funded by Professional Footballers’ Association and published by Sky Sports.
In the Euro 2020 final, three England players Jadon Sancho, Bukayo Saka and Marcus Rashford were abused by fans after losing their spot kicks.
The UK government has proposed expanding legislation that attempts to impose penalties on anyone convicted of violence, disturbance, and racist or homophobic chanting to include online hate crimes.