Premier League: Richard Masters reveals plans to tackle racism in football

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor
'We're determined to tackle discrimination' - Richard Masters on fighting racism

The Premier League's acting chief executive says "one instance of racism is too many" as he laid out plans to tackle the issue in the game.

Richard Masters says measures are being put in place to improve stewarding and make it easier for fans to report instances of racism.

Last season saw a number of racist incidents involving high-profile players such as Raheem Sterling.

"We're determined to tackle discrimination," said Masters.

In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sport, Masters also discussed:

  • Manchester City's domestic dominance
  • How the introduction of VAR will be controversial
  • Whether the Premier League could give more money to help lower division clubs
  • Gambling sponsorship and football
  • How the Premier League could take over the Women's Super League
  • What the league is doing to prepare for a possible no-deal Brexit

How confident are you of tackling the issue of racism in football?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring a goal with a banana skin on the pitch in front of him
A Tottenham fan was banned from football for four years and fined for throwing a banana skin onto the pitch during a north London derby against Arsenal last season

Statistics gathered by anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out showed reports of racism in English football rose by 43% - from 192 to 274 - last season. This season there has already been four alleged incidents of racist abuse on the opening weekend of the EFL campaign.

"We are determined to tackle discrimination," says Masters.

"We had some unsavoury incidents at Premier League grounds last season and one incident is one incident too many. It does make you step back and ask whether we're doing enough and doing right, and that's why we're working with the Football Association (FA), the Football League (EFL) and the government to work out what we can do better.

"Inside the grounds we're looking at measures to improve stewarding so they can deal quickly and efficiently with issues when they arise, and also to improve reporting mechanisms for fans when they see it.

"There were some reports of instances in the first round of EFL matches last week. The only good news I suppose is that people are reporting them. We want to encourage fans when they see other supporters making discriminatory comments and abusing other people that they do report it, that's important."

Should the Premier League invest more in Kick It Out?

The Premier League currently gives the anti-discrimination organisation £284,000 annually, with the latest funding cycle yet to be confirmed.

"If it was the only investment we were making you'd have a point, but it is not," says Masters.

"Kick It Out perform a vital role and hold football to account but the clubs are investing and it's only a small part of what happens to tackle discrimination in the game and we look forward to renewing our partnership with Kick It Out."

Is Manchester City's financial clout making the league predictable?

Vincent Kompany lifts the Premier League trophy
Manchester City have won back-to-back Premier League titles and became the first English side to win the domestic treble last season

"I'm not concerned. First of all we should celebrate just how brilliant City are and we should celebrate how Pep Guardiola has transformed the squad," says Masters.

"Secondly, I think the Premier League is unpredictable. If they perform well it won't be any surprise if they win the league but they are going to face competition in my view.

"It was a two-horse race last year but you don't know whether someone is going to emerge from the pack.

"It's only three years ago we were celebrating Leicester's unbelievable win in the Premier League. So things can change very quickly."

What has been done to make sure the introduction of VAR goes smoothly?

A VAR decision on the big screen ruling out a goal at Etihad Stadium
VAR has already been used in Champions League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup games

"It's been two years in the planning so an enormous amount of work has gone in. We took the decision a year ago not to go with it and to spend another year training and planning because we wanted to make sure we were ready to deliver a quality service at all times," says Masters.

"What everyone wants to see are those big decisions being called correctly but not the pace and the passion of the Premier League being disrupted.

"I think we have got the balance about right. We are setting the bar high on intervention on those subjective decisions. Our mantra is maximum benefit for minimum disruption.

"It is going to be controversial; there are still subjective decisions to be made and it will take time to get used to. But my hope is it will bring people in, not push people away."

Should the Premier League be doing more to help financial struggling EFL clubs?

Bury FC stadium Gigg Lane
Bury have had their first two League One matches of the season suspended by the EFL after failing to show the league evidence of financial viability

The Premier League is the richest league in the world, with combined revenues rising to a record £4.8bn in the 2017-18 season, with an operating profit of £867m. Meanwhile, League One clubs Bolton and Bury have both been deducted 12 points because of financial issues. This week Burton boss Nigel Clough called for the Premier League to share some of its riches to boost the finances of EFL clubs.

"No-one likes to see clubs in jeopardy, it creates too much uncertainty for everyone including the fans," says Masters.

"We are a huge supporter of the EFL. This year we will distribute a quarter of a billion pounds in parachute payments to relegated clubs and we also give £100m in solidarity payments to the EFL for member clubs so there's huge amounts coming down - a really comprehensive solidarity package.

"I know Nigel (Clough) has called for more to come down and he's entitled to his opinion but ultimately leagues don't run clubs - clubs have to take responsibility for their own decisions and unfortunately that is what has led to the current perils of Bolton and Bury."

Is football being exploited by gambling companies?

Jonathan Hogg wearing Huddersfield's new home kit with large logo of a bookmaker splashed across the front
Huddersfield's new home kit, emblazoned with a bookmaker, was later revealed to be a spoof, with the club's shirt to be blank for the coming season

Half of the Premier League's 20 clubs have gambling companies as their shirt sponsor - more than ever before. In the Championship, a betting company's involvement was key in Wayne Rooney's transfer to Derby while Huddersfield's new kit was the subject of a publicity stunt by a bookmaker.

"Our football clubs have had relationships with betting companies for a long time. There are guardrails with how those relationships can be activated and our clubs adhere to those very carefully," says Masters.

"We also have betting rules in place and lots of integrity measures to protect the competition. We ourselves, the Premier League, do not have a relationship with a betting company.

"I don't think we're at a position yet where we're concerned we have to intervene and nor does the government. Betting is part of what brings people into football, it's only a small part of it but it is part of the game."

Could the Premier League take over the running of the Women's Super League?

England celebrate scoring against Norway at the Women's World Cup
English football is hoping to capitalise on the interest generated by England's run to the Women's World Cup semi-finals in France this summer

A record-breaking 28.1m people watched BBC coverage of this summer's Women's World Cup on television and online.

"It was a brilliant summer; the Lionesses captured the nation's imagination with some amazing TV audiences, so you can see the prospects there," says Masters.

"The Premier League is working with the FA and doing a feasibility study to assume responsibility for the top of the women's game and really create a mirror image with what we see in the men's game.

"All 20 of our clubs in the Premier League this season have a women's side somewhere in the pyramid so we think the time is right to look at it. At some point next year we will put our findings to the clubs and we'll make a decision.

"But it has to happen with the backing of us, the clubs and the FA."

How is the league preparing for a no-deal Brexit?

"The likelihood of us leaving the European Union on October 31 has increased so what we think will happen is there will be some interim measures put in place that won't affect clubs in the short term. But ultimately new policy has to be put in place and the Home Office has asked football to come up with their own solution.

"No-one wants to harm football or stop football gaining access to international talent. The only thing we and the FA are discussing is the approach to homegrown players - we have quotas of eight, and the FA wants that to increase.

"We think that answer comes to further development of the talent pathway. We're still talking."