While hooliganism in English football has been limited to the fringes in recent decades, abuse against black players – both in stadiums and on social media – remains a problem to this day.
“The evidence of racism in English football speaks for itself,” said Dr. Jamie Cleland, a British researcher who studies racism in sports at the University of South Australia.
“Yes, racial abuse in stadiums has decreased compared to the hostile environment of the 1970s and 1980s, but we still see it,” he said. “We now also have the advent of social media, where racist abuse takes place.”
This season, a number of stars, including Manchester City and England striker Raheem Sterling, have spoken about the racism they have experienced both online and during the games. Sterling on Tuesday posted a video with several well-known football stars who speak out against racism.
“Basically, there are still issues in our game that we have never resolved and we need to set a priority,” said Troy Townsend, development manager at Kick it Out, the equality and inclusion organization for English football. He is also the father of Andros Townsend, the Crystal Palace and England player who has played almost 300 professional games.
“If you work in the room that I make, do you somehow realize how far we really got?” Townsend said.
Both Cleland and Townsend point to the predominantly white crowds that can be seen in most Premier League stadiums – often in cities with significant racial diversity – as evidence that more needs to be done to ensure that black and ethnic Minority fans feel good at games.
“The Black fan never felt really safe or comfortable,” said Townsend. “You scan a stadium and see the lack of representation.”
“Football needs to think about and consider how it encourages more fans from different backgrounds and races to feel like they can go to a stadium,” he added.
But not only fans, teams and the league itself have to deal with “structural racism” in their hierarchies, said Cleland.
“There are a significant number of black players, but will they have the opportunity to train or manage at a high level in English football?” I think the proof is in the pudding. “
Nuno Espirito Santo of Wolverhampton Wanderers is currently the only top black coach in the Premier League. The top coaches of the other 19 teams are white. Cleland suggested taking positive action to tackle the lack of representation.
“There is talk of incorporating this” Rooney Rule “, which requires that at least one ethnic minority candidate per senior coach be shortlisted, which was obviously very effective in the NFL,” he said.
“There is a lot of opposition to this,” he added, “but then you just have to look at the governance structure of English football to see that it is very populated by white men.”
Townsend also points out the “embarrassing” low representation of blacks and ethnic minorities on the Premier League team boards.
“It’s something that has to challenge and appeal to the game.”
Still, it is a crucial moment in the fight against in-game racism to allow players to view “Black Lives Matter,” said Townsend.
“It is a message from the players and the authorities within the game that black lives really do matter, and they will make a real change in how these black lives are portrayed in their industry,” he said.