With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a statement on discrimination in football.
The Government are concerned about the recent rise in racist abuse in football which threatens to overshadow everything we love about our national sport. Last weekend, the English Football League said that it was “saddened, disappointed and angered” after a weekend of fixtures was blighted by four separate incidents of alleged racism against players. At the same time, in the Premier League, Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha re-posted an online tweet calling him “a diving monkey”. This all happened on the very same weekend that the Premier League’s new “No Room for Racism” campaign was visible at grounds up and down the country.
Late last year, the unthinkable occurred—a banana skin was thrown on the pitch in the direction of a player during the north London derby. At the same time, we saw the abuse that Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling suffered at Stamford Bridge. We all witnessed the appalling scenes of racism directed at several of our England players in Montenegro. Homophobic and anti- semitic chanting, both here and abroad, has been prevalent in recent times. English football is revered across the globe for its excitement and passion. No other sport or country opens its doors and embraces so many different nationalities. We simply cannot have millions of people, particularly our young people, tuning into or witnessing at first hand the type of vile abuse that has been apparent of late—abuse directed at our players and our managers by opposing fans.
Wilfried Zaha, Raheem Sterling, and Danny Rose deserve our respect for speaking out about the abuse that is happening now, but ultimately they deserve our support. They need clear demonstrations that zero tolerance of this behaviour means just that. Be it player, manager or supporter—whether playing or attending—nobody who goes to games should have to tolerate discrimination of any kind. We welcomed the Football Association’s call for UEFA to take strong and swift action following events in Montenegro. However, if this country is going to show the rest of the world that this behaviour is intolerable, we need to ensure that we are making every effort to combat discriminatory behaviour domestically.
I want to put it on record that there is some fantastic work being done by many of our clubs to stand up to the challenge of racism and intolerance. It must be said that the vast majority of football fans behave impeccably, creating a fantastic atmosphere that is a major part of the experience of watching live football. Racism is not of football’s making, but sadly it is being used by certain individuals and groups to spread hate. This extends to the grassroots, with Kick It Out reporting a rise in racist incidents at this level too. It cannot be right for clubs to be fined for players taking action and walking off the pitch if they are receiving racist abuse. It is vital that players are supported. This type of fine sends the wrong signal. The FA must review whether its rules, as they stand, and the guidance it gives to clubs are effective for use in these situations.
Putting a stop to this is a challenge that affects all fans, all clubs and all football agencies, at all levels. The Government are determined to help in tackling this problem. On 25 February, I brought many of the various administrators, campaign bodies, fan group representatives, players, managers and organisations together for a summit to discuss this issue and collectively decide on what steps they must take to help to eradicate it. At that summit, it was agreed that a number of areas needed to be examined further.
There were six initial areas: first, to review whether football’s current sanctioning regime goes far enough and, if not, what more is needed to act as a deterrent to this type of behaviour; secondly, to ensure that the partnership between football authorities and the police is close enough to improve the identification and sanctioning of offenders at matches; thirdly, to ask whether we give enough support to stewards and whether we can improve their capacity to deal with discrimination consistently throughout the leagues; fourthly, whether football can improve the information flow of incident reporting on the pitch, and support players; fifthly, how we can double down on efforts to ensure that match officials, stewarding operations and coaching and academy staff are all fully able to engage in their responsibilities to maintain an open and inclusive sporting environment; and finally, initiatives to help to increase the numbers of people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds into football professions beyond playing, with transparency and opportunities in the recruitment process absolutely central to this.
The Government will work with those key groups to deliver clear, tangible actions in the areas I have just described. My intention is to announce these in partnership with football before the end of the summer. If we are able to deliver them before, even better. I want to see change ready for the next season.
The ongoing cross-Government sport strategy “Sporting Future: A New Strategy for an Active Nation” seeks to ensure that access to sport is equal for all. It is vital that the atmosphere and environment in which sport and physical activity take place in our communities, whether at grassroots or elite level, are safe, supportive and free of discrimination and intolerance. The experience of players, staff and fans at football games both home and abroad will prove the ultimate test of success in this area. I am confident that the appetite is there to accept that challenge, and by working in partnership we will quash this disturbing and ugly recent trend of racism across our beautiful game.
Although we are only halfway through proceedings, Mr Speaker, it is a pleasure to see you remaining jolly and calm.
I commend the Minister for making this particular statement, and I thank her for advance sight of it. I am sure that I speak for those on both sides of the House when I say that we appreciate her personal commitment to tackling discrimination in sport in all its forms. I agree that the vast majority of football fans see racism, homophobia, sectarianism and bigotry as the ugly side of the beautiful game. But hardly a week goes by without an example of discrimination.
We were all shocked by the blatant racism during the game against Montenegro last month. Hearing Danny Rose say after that match that he cannot wait to see the back of football because of racism is deeply depressing, but sadly not surprising. When young players face abuse time and again, who can blame them for wanting to walk away? The bravery shown by those players is commendable, but they should not have to be brave when they are only trying to do their jobs. I agree with the Minister when she says that players should never be punished for walking off a pitch after receiving racist abuse, and I was disappointed to hear that the Wythenshawe Town manager, James Kinsey, has been sanctioned for taking his team off the pitch after alleged racism from a linesman.
I have some suggestions for the Minister to help to battle bigotry as soon as it rears its head. First, stewards can work more closely with police to identify offenders, intervene early and gather good evidence to facilitate arrests and charges. The Ministry of Justice could encourage the Crown Prosecution Service to give football hate speech a higher priority and impose harsher sentences. The Government could increase support for education programmes, such as those run by Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out, both of which have seen cuts as a result of central Government cuts to local government. Let us also be aware that the far right is attempting to infiltrate football again through groups such as the Football Lads Alliance, which marched on London only a few weeks ago, when some of their members were seen giving Nazi salutes.
We should also be aware that the problem is not only on the pitch and in the stands but online and in the media. The Minister mentioned Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who retweeted some of the horrendous racism he receives. Given that so much of the racist abuse directed at players is online, will the Minister explicitly include hate crimes aimed at sporting figures in the online harms consultation?
Raheem Sterling, in my view a hero, has called out the ways in which media portrayals fuel racism, in particular the disparaging way in which a young black player was treated for buying a house for his mum compared with a white player doing the same. Does the Minister agree that there is a problem and that some news outlets need to be more responsible?
It is not just racism. Other types of bigotry, such as homophobia and sectarianism, plague the game. The Scottish Parliament has united in committing £14 million since 2012 to tackle sectarianism on the terraces. Can the Minister match that for English football? Campaigns such as Football v Homophobia are doing great work, but six out of 10 LGBT supporters say they have witnessed homophobic abuse.
The Minister is right that the vast majority of fans abhor discrimination of any kind. A small number of thugs who propagate that vile bigotry ruin football for the players and millions of fans who love the game. We do not always agree on things across the House, but we are in absolute unity on this. Discrimination of any kind has no place in football. I and my team will do everything we can to work with her and her team to drive it out.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his tone and collegiate approach on this issue. It is right that we stand and work together on the issue of intolerance, whether it happens in sport or our communities. Football cannot and should not be used as a cloak for racism and intolerance, and it is sad that players have decided to walk off the pitch because they have simply had enough. I applaud them. They reserve the right to stay on the pitch and do their job, and enjoy the game, and they reserve the right to walk off and do what they feel is right. We should be willing to tackle the ugly side, as the hon. Gentleman describes it, of the beautiful game.
Members on both sides of the House will have heard the reaction from Danny Rose, which was heartbreaking. We need to support the bravery of players to do their jobs and to speak out in this day and age, but they should not feel they have to do that. It is right that players should take action and we are working with the police to make sure that we support them. The UK Football Policing Unit, alongside the Home Office, will continue to work on concerns about hate crime, football and the rise of the far right coming together to spread intolerance and fear in our communities. It is right that we use the Online Harms White Paper in this, and the Secretary of State has just said that harassment will be included. It is right that sports stars and others on the frontline can be supported through this process.
Let us stop this. Let us stand up to it. Everybody needs to be on the right side of this and call it out. Let us support Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out. People should use the app and report to their clubs. People in the stands know who these people are, and we need to make sure they do not do it in our name, the name of our club or the name of football.
I was appalled to hear Danny Rose say that he, as a professional footballer, could not wait for his career to end. He is a Tottenham legend for scoring the winning goal in the north London derby on his debut with a stunning volley. He should be praised as a footballer, not condemned by racist abuse. We must get to a position in which those who utter racist abuse at football matches are identified, ejected and charged with their crime, and the good fans, who do not want to see this happen, are not punished as a result of the bad fans who utter this racist abuse.
Can I bring consensus back and thank the Minister for early sight of the statement? I associate myself with the comments made by the Minister and the Labour Front-Bench spokesman, and it is not often that I can say that.
The recent high-profile instances of racism in the game fly in the face of the fantastic work done over the years by groups such as Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out. Sadly, however, although football in England at any rate is swimming in money, a relatively small amount is spent by the game on such initiatives. I very much welcome the Minister’s tone and the actions she has set out. I think we can all agree that it is time for footballing authorities and top-level clubs to take the issue more seriously and invest in resources appropriately, and not just invest but make proper policy and disciplinary decisions. The example of James Kinsey, whom the Minister and shadow Minister referred to, being disciplined for taking his team off the pitch following racist abuse is shameful. I praise the reaction of players such as Raheem Sterling and Danny Rose to their abuse, but they must be better supported by bodies such as UEFA, which all too often issue paltry fines that amount to a pittance in the modern game.
As the shadow Secretary of State outlined, since 2012 the Scottish Government have invested £14 million to support the delivery of anti-sectarian education in schools, prisons, workplaces and communities. Does the Minister agree that knowledge education is one of the best means of tackling ignorance and must be part of the solution? Does she also agree that it is important to increase public awareness of the options open to fans to report racist incidents? The fact that less than half of all fans are aware of the Kick It Out smartphone app is disappointing to say the least.
Finally, the lower leagues and the grassroots take their example from the top-level game. It is simply not good enough in this day and age that only 4% of coaching and management roles across the top four leagues in England are held by black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals. Does the Minister agree that reducing discrimination in the boardrooms and on the training grounds would go a long way towards changing wider attitudes in society?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising important points about the ability to report with confidence through the Kick It Out app and about the education piece, which is vital. We want our football clubs across the land to be welcoming, diverse and representative of the communities they serve. They should absolutely be tolerant places where people want to be, not places where they feel they have to speak out about behaviours that are not acceptable, whether in the pub or the wider community. We must work together as fellow sports fans and do our level best to ensure that football is welcoming at every level.
May I commend the approach taken by the two premiership clubs in my constituency? Fulham has had a long tradition as a pioneer in combating racism in football. Obviously, Chelsea has had more trouble over the years, but the recent instance in December with Raheem Sterling, to which my hon. Friend the referred, led to tough action—led personally by the chairman of the club, Bruce Buck—against four supporters. Does she agree that clubs such as Chelsea need to keep up the pressure on these abhorrent fans and ensure that racism in football is stamped out entirely in the coming days?
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising the good work done in the community. I have met with Fulham, been to its training ground and seen the work it does in the community, and have also met with Chelsea about particular issues. The pride in a football club and the badge can be used so positively, and we must harness that.
This year I had the pleasure of judging the football community trust club of the year awards and was able to read the testimonies of many football clubs and see how much work is done at those clubs to tackle racism in our communities. Football as an institution probably does more than any other. Does the Minister agree that if we are to show leadership as politicians, we must put our own houses in order and set the highest standards for membership of our organisations when it comes to Islamophobia and antisemitic behaviour?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that event on the terrace here in the House of Commons, which showed how much good work is done in clubs across the land. It is absolutely right that we do not lose sight of the positive things happening in our communities and, above all, that we are not afraid of standing up to intolerance, because frankly that does no one any good.
I recently attended my first West Ham game at the London stadium. It has an amazing family atmosphere, and I spoke to the foundation about what it is doing to support the Kick It Out campaign. Does my hon. Friend agree that football matches have a special ability to bring together people of all ages and backgrounds, and that racist language and abuse must never be allowed to undermine that by normalising division in the eyes of young people or making aspiring players feel excluded from sharing the joy of the game?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising that. I think that football has come an incredibly long way from where we were in the ’80s, but frankly that is not good enough. Football is a family game and is incredibly welcoming, but small pockets of people continue to use it as a cloak—although it is no disguise, frankly—for intolerance. They should know better. They should look around and see that it is they who have got it wrong.
I and the vast majority of Newcastle United fans condemn utterly the racist abuse that Zaha received after the Crystal Palace game on Saturday. I was at the game and there was certainly no abuse in the Gallowgate end, where I was. That would not have been the case 30 or 40 years ago, when I would avoid St James’ Park because of the racists there, but the club, football institutions and fans came together to kick the racists out. That has not happened in certain European countries, which are frankly still in the dark ages, so will the Minister look at taking UEFA to the European Court of Human Rights? Footballers are working when they are playing the beautiful game, and they have a right to work in an atmosphere where abuse is absolutely not tolerated.
I thank the hon. Lady, who always highlights the beauty of her football club. I intend to meet UEFA and FIFA in due course. These international bodies have a chance to work with us and use their global standing to make change. No one is going wait any longer.
West Bromwich Albion pioneered the fight against racism in football in the 1970s with club legends such as Cyrille Regis, Brendon Batson and Laurie Cunningham. Will the Minister support police in the west midlands and across the country in bringing charges against those who subject players, fans and officials to racist abuse from the stands?
It is absolutely right that across Government, we stand fully beside the police if they have the evidence and back them up. I have met with West Midlands police about the forthcoming Commonwealth games and its commitment to ensure that the community is well policed and looked after, and this issue is surely part of that.
As you know, Mr Speaker, I am a lifelong Man City fan and a season ticket holder, so I am extraordinarily proud of what Raheem Sterling does on the pitch and his action on anti-racism off it. My wife and I are also fans of Wythenshawe Town. In January, the manager James Kinsey took the players off the pitch when the assistant referee was clearly racist to one of our players. That accusation against the assistant referee was subsequently proven and he faces a charge of disrepute, yet the club and the manager still face charges for leading the players off the pitch. Does the Minister agree that the FA needs to show more consistency and leadership on whether and when players should walk off the pitch and whether there should be fines for it?
I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. The FA needs to review its rules and guidance to enable clubs to be effective and consistent in these situations. As we have heard, ultimately we are talking about a workplace, where people should not be subjected to abuse but supported either to walk away or to stand up to it.
I welcome the Minister’s strong statement on racism in football. I am sure she will join me in wishing Arsenal football club the best of luck in its Europa League game this evening, but will she also join me in welcoming the hard work of the Sussex County Football Association, which takes a strong, zero-tolerance approach at grassroots level, making it easy to report any incidents of racism, carrying out swift investigations and enforcing strong sanctions? Does she agree that stamping out racism at grassroots level is the key to tackling racism in football?
I understand that there is a very important fixture against Napoli tonight, so may I wish everybody involved a safe and pleasant experience? Turning to the county FA, leadership at the local level can really make a change, and I salute Sussex FA for doing the right thing.
I pay tribute to the courage of Raheem Sterling, and others, in speaking out and making clear that racism in football will never defeat us. I also thank the Minister and the shadow Secretary of State for their statements condemning overt racism in national football. However, covert, institutionalised obstacles continue to be placed in the way of local football teams. What is the Minister doing to tackle covert racism in grassroots football?
Grassroots football has huge power, because if someone sees racist behaviour in football played on the local marshes, they might think that it is acceptable in one of the main stadiums, but it is not acceptable at either level. Let us ensure that at grassroots level people know that racism is uncalled for and not needed. People should report racism to the club, stand up to it and call it out, and that will make the change.
Does the Minister agree that support for Gareth Southgate’s team united people across the nation because it seemed to represent what we in this country are like? That team had tremendous talent, with all those young new players coming through. Does she agree that if our players go somewhere overseas as guests, it is not acceptable for them—particularly wonderful players such as Raheem Sterling—to be attacked in such a way? Is it almost a matter for the Foreign Office? Should we be making strong representations through the Foreign Office and our diplomatic service to get such behaviour stopped?
Our football experience, both home and abroad, is vital, and that is where we can use our standing. The Lionesses will play in the World cup this summer in France, alongside the Scottish women’s team. The Euro semi-finals are coming up, and the women’s European Championship in 2021 will be played here in England. We can use the fact that all eyes will be on football on these shores to show that, both home and away, we do the right thing.
Sectarianism, racism and homophobia have no place in football, and some clubs—and indeed the FA—could look to the women’s game for good examples, or indeed to my own football club, Livingston FC, where I used to sell the odd pie when I was a student. I thank the Minister for her statement and her bold actions. The FA chairman has recognised the women’s game as a beacon of inclusivity. The Minister said that we do the right thing abroad, but let us not forget that the World cup will soon be held in Qatar—a country that should never have got it in the first place and where it is illegal to be homosexual. We must take stronger action against such countries, and perhaps consider withholding teams from going there, in order to send the strongest possible message.
As ever, the hon. Lady makes some pertinent points, and I know she feels passionate about this issue. I have met representatives from Qatar, and said that when we send fans abroad we expect them to be safe, to enjoy the football, and to be who they want to be. Our fans should, and must, be supported.
Racism in football, or anywhere else, is unacceptable, and I welcome the discussions that my hon. Friend has held with football authorities involved with professional football. What discussions has she had with those authorities about children’s and amateur football, as it is equally important to ensure that we teach our children that racist abuse is completely unacceptable?
As my hon. Friend says, it is important to get this issue right at all levels of the game, and one reason I called for a summit against racism was that I felt that there was no co-ordinated approach across the game. If we do not get this issue right at grassroots level, how can we expect to get it right at national level? I continue to work to hold football authorities to account, but I think that they know they have a problem and must be at the table at every level.
I thank the Minister for her statement. She will know that Northern Ireland supporters were voted the best supporters at the 2016 European Championships by supporters from all the other countries involved. That happened for a number of reasons, including because the Irish Football Association and the Northern Ireland supporters clubs have worked together, with a 10-year plan, to defeat terrorism and stop it on the terraces at Windsor Park and elsewhere. Has the Minister had the opportunity to speak to the Irish Football Association and the Northern Ireland supporters clubs to gauge some of the things that they have done to take sectarianism away from the terraces and make football a pleasurable experience for both Protestants and Roman Catholics across Northern Ireland?
I have spoken about sporting issues with inter-ministerial groups, including officials from Northern Ireland, and I will soon be visiting Portrush, which I am greatly looking forward to, particularly in the week of the Masters. It is right to get into community clubs, which are working so well in Northern Ireland, and to listen, learn and share best practice.
Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating Crawley Town FC on taking part in the Kick It Out initiative last Saturday? What she and that club are doing to tackle racism is absolutely right, and perhaps she will once again pay a visit to Crawley, where she would be most welcome.
I thank my hon. Friend for mentioning the Kick It Out initiative, which is heading down from the Premier League and into other clubs, where it makes a positive intervention. Crawley has hosted the Brighton and Hove Albion women’s team, and it has great leadership across all levels of women’s football. I have Crawley on my radar, and I would be delighted to visit as soon as possible.
Children are not born racist; they learn racism, which is why anti-racism education is so vital. Will the Minister speak to the Secretary of State for Education about long-term Government support for a programme of anti-racism education, which could involve the pioneering educational charity Show Racism the Red Card?
I pay tribute to Show Racism the Red Card, and to all those who do great work in our community clubs up and down the land. It is right to listen to our youngsters on this issue. There have been roundtables with governing bodies to discuss school sport action plans. We need more people across the game, including mentors and leaders from different backgrounds, as that helps to show women, girls, and people across the game that there is a place for them in football at every level.
I strongly welcome the Minister’s statement and her leadership on this issue. Will she say a little more about why she thinks there has been this appalling upsurge in racism in football? Does she agree that Raheem Sterling was right to call out parts of the British media for the way they treat black British footballers?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words—if we all worked together on this issue we could make a huge difference. I think social media has not been helpful, as it has been a platform on which people have been able to ply racism and hate and disguise who they are. I hate to say it, but if that has crept into the stadiums, perhaps social media is part of the issue. The online harms White Paper mentions a new duty of care regarding social media, because too many cowards out there think that football is a cloak to cover their intolerance. We need no more of that.
I thank the Minister for her robust statement—remarkably, she has managed to unite the House. There is a lot of money in football, including £4.5 billion in the Premier League alone. Is enough of that money flowing to stamp out abuse and promote equality, and are the fines harsh enough to help with that?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising the money issue. Ultimately, we can put more into this and show leadership, and the two should go together. Everything should be on the table, including heavy fines for people who do not react. Above all, we should show leadership, top and bottom, at every level, and money should be no object.
Will the Minister join me in paying tribute to community football clubs such as the Bristol Panthers FC—the LGBT club in Bristol—and the Easton Cowboys, which are both in my constituency and do so much to combat hatred, whether that is racism or homophobia? Perhaps she would like to come and visit them.
As one of the ambassadors of the Cardiff City FC Community Foundation, may I commend the work of the foundation and the club itself in working with Kick It Out and other organisations to tackle racism and discrimination? Will the Minister join me in welcoming LGBT-inclusive teams such as Cardiff Dragons and London Titans, who do amazing work in bringing people into the game?
I saw in my own local mela the amount of sporting clubs that are there for people to join. I would say to people, “Have a look.” It certainly sounds as if there is a great opportunity in Cardiff to get involved at sport at every level. That is what this Government want to see.
Will the Minister undertake to speak to fans’ organisations, such as Fans Against Criminalisation, to make sure that the route to sorting out bigotry and racism lies in using fans to boot it out, rather than criminalising them unnecessarily?
As the legendary John Barnes said, if every racist who came to football was silenced, football stadiums would still be full of racists. It is not enough just to stamp out expressions of racism. What can we do to tackle the underlying causes?
We need to see more leadership in the game. We need more people rising to the top like Darren Moore, who came and gave me his thoughts—I thank him for that—Chris Hughton, Sol Campbell and Keith Curle. We are not seeing enough people getting to the top and being able to speak out. We need to support them to do that and have a mix of people there.
Does the Minister agree that racism does not merely exist in football grounds; it also exists in the boardroom? Some 30% of players are black and minority ethnic, but less than 5% of managers are. What will she do to require the football authorities to address this issue?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. At the racism summit I held, there were people outside football holding football to account for not being diverse and welcoming enough. They know the problem. It is time to change who is at the top, because that changes everything.
Racism and discrimination in football and other sports reflects society as a whole. Does the Minister agree that we need to be demanding more not only of our football and other sporting institutions, but of our leaders in the public and private sectors—and, dare I say it, in politics?
May I draw the Minister’s attention to a game between UK Parliament FC and Show Racism the Red Card that will take place next month? I cannot promise to score four goals like I did in the last game I played for UK Parliament FC, but I hope it will be an opportunity for everyone to see that the whole House is united in fighting all forms of discrimination.
As a gay Roman Catholic of Irish heritage who grew up in the west of Scotland, I am very much aware of some of the issues the Minister raises. My own local clubs, Clydebank, Yoker Athletic, Dumbarton and the Vale, have challenged the community to think differently over the past 20 years. Can the Minister tell me where we are on disability discrimination? There needs to be more done to challenge football clubs to give disabled fans and disabled footballers more access to the game.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. The experience of our disabled fans across the country is not equal, not fair and not good enough. The whole House is listening and the UK is watching: football, give everyone a fair experience, particularly our disabled fans.
As a Palace season ticket holder, I spend many a happy Saturday afternoon chanting, “He’s just too good for you” about Wilf Zaha, as he runs rings around opposition defenders. Does the Minister agree that Wilf Zaha needs to be recognised not just for the wizardry he displays on the pitch, but for the work he does for Football for Peace to unite communities?