Racism in football: 'Problems still exist at grassroots level'

WARNING: The article below contains language of a racial nature.

An MP who led a taskforce on racism in football for the Football Association says "very little progress" has been made in tackling the problem at grassroots level.

Labour MP John Mann, speaking to 5 Live Investigates, says complaints he regularly receives from black, Asian and Jewish players make him doubt the Prime Minister's claim that Britain has led the world in kicking racism out of football.

The English FA says much has been achieved in making football "safe for all and free from abuse and discrimination", but it recognises there are many challenges still to be faced.

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It has revealed there were 144 incidents of misconduct in which racism was an aggravating factor during the 2011-2012 season.

That total is for all levels of the English game, and includes both of the high-profile Premier League incidents for which John Terry and Luis Suarez were given suspensions. But most of the cases were at grassroots level and investigated by the county FAs.

Players, coaches and anti-racism campaigners who spoke to 5 Live Investigates feel the figure does not reflect the true scale of the problem.

Colin King from the Black and Asian Coaches Association says his organisation's 600 members report at least three cases of racism a week, "…from being called things like 'Paki', to the 'N-word'. We've still got the monkey-shouting that takes place from parents and other managers as well. I do park football every week and I see racial abuse consistently."

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"The abuse is sometimes seen as part and parcel of the game. It can be a bit like the Wild West, playing grassroots football in certain areas."

Danny Lynch, Kick It Out

Butch Fazal, who chairs the British Asian Football Forum, says he is aware of three incidents of racism in the past three weeks. One involved the under-15s team which he coaches in Luton, as he and the opposition coach were checking the photos on players' registration cards before a match.

Mr Fazal says he was told: "I don't know why I bothered checking those, they all look the same." The matter was reported to the Bedfordshire County FA which ordered the opposition coach to do a race awareness workshop at his own expense.

But in many cases, it seems, incidents are not being reported to the authorities. Danny Lynch from the anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out says players and coaches do not speak out because of a lack of confidence in the complaints procedure.

"Our job is made a little bit harder by the culture of grassroots football that seems to be 'get your head down, get on with it'," said Lynch. "The abuse is sometimes seen as part and parcel of the game. It can be a bit like the Wild West, playing grassroots football in certain areas."

Parts of South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire, Lancashire and Hertfordshire were identified as problem areas for racism in grassroots football by Mann, the Labour MP for Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire.

He spent 18 months chairing a task force for the FA on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in football. He found evidence of "sustained abuse" of players from ethnic minority groups and he, too, noticed a reluctance to report incidents of racism.

"I was astonished how players getting abused every single week were not complaining and felt there was no purpose in complaining," said Mann. "In any other part of British society that kind of abuse would not be accepted."

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In his report to the FA in January 2010, Mann recommended the setting up of an independent tribunal for racism and discrimination cases in football, red cards for abusive parents at junior matches and a simpler system of reporting racist incidents for referees.

He says none of these proposals has been acted upon. While he praises the efforts of the FA's leadership to tackle racism, he feels they are powerless to bring about change at grassroots level because of the attitude of some local administrators.

In a statement, the English FA said: "We recognise there is under-reporting of incidents of racism and discrimination in the game. We encourage those who feel they have been discriminated against to report their concerns. We are determined to provide an inclusive football experience for anyone who wishes to play or support English football."

The FA of Wales has held disciplinary hearings into four cases of alleged racist abuse since 2007. The Scottish FA and FA of Ireland do not collate figures for incidents of racism.

David Cameron and the Sports Minister, Hugh Robertson, have held meetings with stakeholders in football to discuss the issue of racism.

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: "We are in dialogue with the football authorities about further steps to tackle racism in the game and expect to hear a way forward from them in the coming weeks."