Sanjay Bhandari: Discrimination in football may 'get worse before it gets better'

By Alistair MagowanBBC Sport
New Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari
Sanjay Bhandari was presented as the new chairman of anti-racism charity Kick It Out on Tuesday

Discrimination in football may "get worse before it gets better", according to Sanjay Bhandari, the new chairman of anti-racism charity Kick It Out.

There have been several high-profile racism incidents this season, with players being abused both on social media and in stadiums.

Bhandari, who is a former lawyer, says the problem is reflective of society.

He told BBC sport that he expects the situation to deteriorate because of a potential recession.

But he outlined how he would be conducting a strategic review and "a three-month listening tour" to discover how Kick It Out best tackles discrimination after replacing founder and former chair Lord Herman Ouseley, who was in the role for 26 years.

The 51-year-old revealed he was racially abused on social media within minutes of news of his appointment being made public last month.

But after claims by former trustee Garth Crooks that a former player should have been appointed, Bhandari said he was "the right fit" for the role after being "inside football for 45 years".

The Manchester United fan, who has worked as an equality expert with the Premier League for four years, wants more money to help the charity's cause.

In his opening speech, he said that trying to serve the whole football industry with an annual budget of about £800,000 and 18 staff was "not sustainable".

Discrimination has undergone 'upward spike'

This season several Premier League players have suffered racist abuse on social media and last month there was criticism of Uefa's punishment of Bulgaria, who were fined £65,000 and ordered to play one game behind closed doors after fans aimed monkey chants at England players during a Euro 2020 qualifier.

An FA Cup tie between Haringey Borough and Yeovil Town was abandoned after players suffered racist abuse. And in Europe there have been several incidents, including Brazilian player Taison being reduced to tears after being sent off for reacting to racist chants while playing for Shakhtar Donetsk.

"Over a 30- or 40-year period it's declined, but undoubtedly in the last couple of years we've seen an upward spike in reporting of racism and other forms of discrimination," Bhandari told BBC Sport.

"In the future, I anticipate there is more demand for that to increase in the sense that economic conditions, maybe with a recession on the horizon, also tends to lead to increase in discrimination so it may get worse before it gets better.

"The big difference with football is that it can be a mirror but it can also be a propeller. Football can be used as a cohesive force to change social attitudes."

'Social media companies are engaged'

Marcus Rashford celebrates scoring for Manchester United
Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford (centre) was racially abused on social media in August

Bhandari also outlined how social media was an "amplifier" of abuse.

Several Premier League managers, including Manchester United's Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea's Frank Lampard, have called on social media companies to do more to tackle abuse.

Bhandari said conversations with Facebook and Twitter were ongoing and said: "They want to do something about it. They are engaged."

But he said Uefa could have improved its handling of England players being abused against Bulgaria, when the three-step process was not followed despite England's 6-0 win being stopped twice.

"The protocol has been place for 10 years, we just want to see it executed more consistently," Bhandari added. "Maybe there was a missed opportunity in the Bulgaria game to go through the whole of that process.

"I can understand why players might want to walk off, we would support that if that's what they wanted to do."

As for the punishment handed to Bulgaria - labelled "embarrassing" by Liverpool striker Rhian Brewster - Bhandari questioned whether the fines could be used for educational purposes: "I think that's a more interesting use of the money."

He also announced three new members of the Kick It Out board, describing it as "diverse, passionate and enthusiastic". Chris Paouros, co-chair of Tottenham's LGBT supporters group; Cindy Butts, who holds several legal positions on boards; and Kevin Miles, the chief executive of the Football Supporters Association, have joined an eight-person team.

And Bhandari also claimed Uefa's disciplinary panel, which issued the punishment to Bulgaria, would benefit from greater diversity.

"More diversity in leadership positions or boards will always help make better decisions."

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