Reports of racist abuse rose by 43% last season, Kick It Out figures show

Raheem Sterling
Manchester City and England forward Raheem Sterling frequently spoke out against racism last season

The rise in reports of racist abuse in football can be linked to Brexit, Kick It Out chief Roisin Wood has claimed.

Statistics gathered by the anti-discrimination charity showed reports of racism in English football rose by 43% - from 192 to 274 - last season.

"I think you can't not link them together," Wood told BBC Sport.

"We're seeing a lot of reports of 'go back to where you came from' which we haven't seen for a while which seems to be on the back of Brexit."

Factoring in all forms of discrimination, reports of abuse in professional and grassroots football increased by 32% to 422, up from 319 during 2017-18. A further 159 reports were received via social media.

Reports of faith-based discrimination - including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism - rose by 75% from 36 to 63, a higher percentage than any other form of abuse during the period.

It is the seventh consecutive year reported incidents of discrimination within football have increased, and the 581 total reports is more than double the figure from five years ago.

"If we're seeing a rise in hate crime, the Home Office is seeing a rise in hate crime and other bodies are seeing a rise in hate crime, it's linked because that's what is going on in society at the moment. If it's there, we'll see it in football," Wood added.

"In some of the cases we have seen, there is a real hatred there which we haven't maybe seen as much of in the past where it's really violent and very targeted, particularly on social media.

"Some of the social media reports we've seen you wouldn't want anyone to see.

"We're talking to people all the time that feel, post-Brexit, that 'maybe this country isn't for me'.

"[Politicians] have to take that responsibility very seriously, they are the leaders of the country and they need to set the tone. Society is reflected in football."

'We have made huge strides' - FA

Responding to the figures, which also showed that reports of abuse in the professional game had increased by 46%, the Football Association said it had made "huge strides" in recent years to ensure English football is a "diverse and inclusive" game.

This includes a new inclusion plan - 'In Pursuit of Progress' - which aims to "create opportunities in football, both on and off the pitch, for people of all backgrounds", as well as funding two extra grassroots officers, based at Kick It Out, who work directly with the County FA network.

"We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and encourage all fans and participants who believe that they have been the subject of, or witness to, discriminatory abuse to report it through the appropriate channels: the FA, our County FA network or via our partners at Kick It Out," the FA's statement added.

Kick It Out says the FA has not informed them of the outcome in 79% of the 109 discrimination cases reported in grassroots football - 40% of which were from under-18 football.

Incidents of racism marred the 2018-19 season, with Raheem Sterling and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang among several players to face abuse.

In December, Manchester City and England forward Sterling suffered alleged racist abuse from Chelsea fans during City's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, and followed that the next morning with an Instagram post in which he questioned newspapers' portrayal of black players and said it fed prejudice and aggressive behaviour.

In March, Sterling was vocal in condemning the racist abuse received by England players during their 5-1 win in Montenegro as well as offering support to his younger team-mate Callum Hudson-Odoi.

And in April he was quick to call out Leonardo Bonucci when the Juventus defender suggested that his team-mate Moise Kean was partly to blame for the racist abuse he received from Cagliari fans.

He was presented with his Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award in the same month, with FWA chair Carrie Brown citing his public stance on racist abuse as being just as important as his exploits on the pitch.

December 2018: Former Liverpool & England footballer John Barnes on racism in football


Dan Roan, BBC sports editor

Just over two weeks before the start of the new season, these figures serve as a stark warning to English football's authorities.

They know the game here cannot afford a repeat of the high-profile incidents that marred last year, especially with the government urging them to put tackling abuse "at the top of their agenda".

Six months ago the outgoing Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley criticised the sport for a lack of leadership and collaboration on the issue. So some will be encouraged by the measures announced today, including a review of FA sanctions and education, and a renewed attempt to improve football's dismal record on job opportunities in coaching and senior administrative roles for BAME candidates.

But others will look at the £800,000 total annual funding that Kick It Out has to rely on from the FA, Premier League, Football League and Professional Footballers' Association, and ask whether these bodies should be investing significantly more if such a wealthy sport is serious about making the game more inclusive.

Incidents of racist abuse in 2018-19

  • December: Banana skin thrown on to the pitch during the north London derby at Emirates Stadium, after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored for Arsenal
  • December: Raheem Sterling suffers alleged racial abuse during Manchester City's defeat at Chelsea. Sterling later says newspapers are helping to "fuel racism" by the ways in which they portray young black footballers
  • March: Chelsea lodge a complaint with Uefa over racist abuse aimed at Callum Hudson-Odoi during Europa League last-16 second leg win at Dynamo Kiev
  • March: England report racist abuse of players during their 5-1 win over Montenegro in Podgorica
  • April: Juventus' 19-year-old Italian forward Moise Kean suffers racist abuse from the stands during a match at Cagliari - with team-mate Leonardo Bonucci's suggestion that Kean was partly to blame called "laughable" by Raheem Sterling
  • April: Two incidents of alleged racist abuse, towards Derby winger Duane Holmes and Wigan defender Nathan Byrne, are reported in the Championship
  • April: Troy Deeney and Watford team-mates Adrian Mariappa and Christian Kabasele receive racist abuse on social media
  • April: Ashley Young receives racist abuse online following Manchester United's Champions League defeat in Barcelona

What is being done about it?

In April, the Professional Footballers' Association asked players to send them evidence of racist online abuse in order to demonstrate to governing bodies the severity of the issue.

The PFA planned to show the posts to the sports minister and a number of football bodies at a meeting in May, while meetings with Twitter and Facebook were also requested after a number of high-profile incidents.

Players were previously encouraged to boycott social media for 24 hours as part of the #Enough campaign.

The release of Kick It Out's figures came as the FA, Premier League and EFL published a joint letter to sports minister Mims Davies, in which they outlined measures they are taking to tackle discrimination in football next season.

This includes a review of how both clubs and the FA sanction discrimination, improved steward training, improved reporting methods and providing more opportunities for BAME people in coaching, refereeing, management and administrative positions.

In a statement, an EFL spokesman said it is "committed to working collectively to ensure football is a game for all".

"While today's announcement suggests more work needs to be done, the results of our recent supporters survey demonstrates clubs are working hard to make football as inclusive as possible. The survey stated 86% of respondents believed their club offered a 'welcoming and inclusive matchday experience for all supporters."

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