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Racism in Football — Why the Punishment Rarely Fits the Crime

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

"They don’t take things seriously, and this is the problem. Racism isn’t seen. They don’t actually see it. They don’t think it’s a huge enough problem"

As seen above here, Patrick Hutchinson touches upon what is fundamentally wrong with the governing bodies that oversee the game we all know and love, football. Although my shared passion for the sport rarely comes into question, season after season I find myself outraged by how bodies such as the FA, UEFA and FIFA respond to incidents of racism on and off the pitch. After reading articles, listening to interviews and checking manuals, there is one common and ever-occurring theme: A lot of talk, and nowhere near enough walk. I hope this debut article for our TEDxFromHome: Pause&Rewind series not only sheds light on the inadequate measures to tackle racism in football, but also acts to provide some form of solution to this constant problem.

I think it’s right to start off by saying, for the record, that racism isn't and hasn’t been treated properly and justifiably by the current powers at play in football. Let’s start with the basics, and look over some rules and regulations that the FA currently have in place.

In the FA’s first year report of their In Pursuit Of Progress: The FA’s equality, diversity and inclusion plan 2018-21 it’s made clear that the minimum punishment for anti-discriminatory behaviour bears a five-game ban (for a first offence). Now, consider this, a dangerous tackle that leads to a straight red usually results in a three or sometimes even four-game ban. If we do some maths, these rules would suggest that the FA does not believe that anti-discriminatory behaviour is even twice as punishable as a poorly timed, usually ‘accidental’ tackle. Of course, I am playing with numbers here, but the simple facts are often a true eye-opener.

Not only this, but the minimum ban of five matches was actually introduced in the 2013-14 season, which means that the consequences of on-field racism haven’t changed in the past five years. The FA’s title for the anti-discriminatory plan is In Pursuit Of Progress, yet anyone can clearly see their actions don’t display any progress whatsoever. I only point this out because whatever the FA do to punish racism in football will transcend into people’s views on and off the pitch. So, what can be done?

During our TEDxFromHome interview with Patrick Hutchinson, Jamaine Facey, Christopher Otokito and Lee Russel, Patrick touched upon the well-known concept of The Old Boys Club:

"For these things to change, like the guys mentioned previously, the Old Boys Clubs, they need to change... They need to go. They need to go, and they need to let young blood in to re-evaluate things and change things"


Just by looking at the most recent picture of the FA board, you can tell the statement most definitely rings true. But just how true is it? Well, across the FA board, the average age of all the members is approximately 60 years old! This age has been calculated between 12 board members, ranging all the way from the executives to the professional and national game representatives. And of course, the majority of the board are male, and not a single member of the FA board or even Senior Management Team are black. I think that settles the fact that the FA is, believe it or not, an Old Boys Club.

Okay, there is the argument that you need a wealth of experience and knowledge to be a board member, but this, clearly, is not the way forward anymore. We shouldn’t need to have players like Raheem Sterling speak out, we shouldn’t need to have countless social media campaigns, and we shouldn’t feel the need to publish this article, but we have to, because the problem exists. Patrick and Jamaine are right. We need new, young and diverse powers at the top to implement real change to how racism is punished in football. They need to put a stop to the puny somewhat insulting fines that countries receive for racist chanting, the outrageously low five-game ban for racism on the field, and only reminding clubs of their responsibilities. More has to be done.

This may seem like a launched attack on the FA, but we must note they are at least realising they have problems within their own hierarchy. Greg Clarke (Chairman of the FA) wrote a letter to all his colleagues expressing how the FA are nowhere near diverse enough, and that they do seek to change this. However, this is, again, just talk, suggesting the possibility of tangible change to punishing racism in football, but it is unclear whether we will see it.

Things have improved though, and with increased awareness from Black Lives Matter, Kick It Out, United To Change And Inspire and players taking a stance, we could see an improvement in how racism is punished in football. However, this is just a start, and in the words of Adebayo Akinfenwa:

"Taking a knee, supporting social media campaigns and wearing a logo on our kits is a start, but it is not enough. It will not result in real and long-standing change" 


For long-standing change, referring to the interview, racism must be treated as a "huge enough problem". And finally, this can only happen if the governing bodies in football, and society in general, punish racism fairly, and as said by Jamaine Facey:

"Empower the right person, so he can bring in the right team, to affect the issues above"


Written by Robert Fletcher. Edited by Atharv Joshi and Aada Orava.

For the full interview, you can view it by clicking here

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