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Football: Racism

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 16 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what support they have identified that the Football Association requires to address levels of racism in football.

My Lords, racism and all forms of discrimination have no place in football or society. We must confront this vile behaviour. Last February, the Government brought together football stakeholders, including the FA, for an anti-discrimination summit, and in July the football authorities set out their list of actions to tackle discrimination, including increasing the minimum sanction for discriminatory behaviour, introducing stronger education measures and improving reporting systems. I met with the FA yesterday and discussed their actions on discrimination. While progress is definitely being made, obviously there is more to do. We will be calling on the footballing authorities for a further update shortly.

I thank the Minister for that response. However, can the Government give us an undertaking that they will undertake some of the activities which the Football Association has brought forward in its snappily titled “mandatory education programme offer,” ensuring in particular that every fan knows what constitutes racism and the effect that it has not only on players but on fellow fans?

I understand the urgency in the noble Lord’s question and encourage him to look at the FA’s website—I am sure he knows it better than I do—which has excellent links to education resources. The Government cannot ensure that every person has seen it, but we are working closely with, and keeping very close tabs on, the FA to ensure that it takes this responsibility very seriously.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the tackling of racial abuse in the Premiership and the persistent racial disparities within the Premier League is moving painfully slowly? One third of Premiership footballers are non-white—in old money, black—yet we have only one black manager, Nuno Espírito Santo of Wolverhampton Wanderers. I am not sure whether there are any Wolverhampton fans here. If so, sorry about last night. I am not sure whether there are any assistant coaches, chief executives or board members of colour. Can the Minister pledge to convene a meeting with the necessary actors, including the police, to encourage, and where possible demand, a comprehensive programme to tackle the scourge of racism and close the racial disparities? The beautiful game must confront and deal with this ugly racism.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. He raises important points about diversity across all levels and all roles within the game. For the benefit of Chelsea fans, yesterday I met Paul Elliott, who I gather was a former captain of Chelsea, and who now chairs the Inclusion Advisory Board for the FA. He felt more confident about the progress that is being made, particularly in relation to coaches. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, who is not in her place, for sending me research on the importance of this point. Sport England is investing £2 million a year in the FA to support its work in ensuring that the coaching workforce is more diverse. The board of the FA contains four women and two people of colour, so it is trying to lead from the front.

My Lords, I welcome the opening comments of my noble friend in identifying that this is an issue not only of racism in football but of diversity in sport and society in general and that we have to tackle it in all forms. My own sport of rugby union faced its difficulty in relation to homophobia, and I pay credit to the RFU and other organisations last year who worked so well with my club and others to tackle such issues. However, is it not inherent in our society that if we are to give advice to others, the language used by some Members in this House should be temperate, sensible and appropriate and not what I, as a gay man, would deem to be abusive?

I will comment on my noble friend’s final remark first. I can only agree with him. Each of us individually has to take responsibility for the language we use and put ourselves in the shoes of those who might find it offensive in any way. Work continues in relation to homophobia, in football specifically, and we very much welcome the Rainbow Laces campaign, which the FA led last year.

My Lords, it is now 20 years since the Football (Disorder) Act was enacted to tackle racist thugs. Does the Minister agree that, given the shocking 123% rise in racist incidents since 2016, now might be the time to consider increasing penalties and strengthening powers to tackle this appalling problem in our football grounds?

The noble Lord is very patient. He raised this point only 19 years ago, but we are now further on. The question of the efficacy of the legislation can be divided into two parts: whether the legislation is fit for purpose and is being implemented properly, and if it is not fit for purpose whether we need to amend it. My honourable friend the Minister for Sport is seeking a meeting with the Home Secretary to discuss this.

My Lords, many acts of racism occur in grounds during matches. However, social media has become a breeding ground and some providers allow the worst abuse to remain posted. Have Her Majesty’s Government considered how the online harms consultation White Paper could be used to look at this form of abuse?

Before I reply to the noble Baroness’s question, I am sure the House will join me in congratulating her—she is wincing—on her incredibly well-deserved lifetime achievement award from the BBC’s “Sports Personality of the Year”. The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Again, from talking yesterday with the FA, it is clear that players feel racism when they turn on their phones as well as on the field. That is very much part of what we will be considering in the online harms Bill.