Jordan Henderson, Tyrone Mings and Karen Carney are among a group of former and current footballers who have held talks with the government on efforts to tackle rising levels of abuse and discrimination within the game.
The DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) Secretary of State Oliver Dowden and Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston spoke to a host of high-profile names which included Henderson, Mings and Carney as well as Liverpool Women winger Rinsola Babajide, Watford’s Troy Deeney, and former Premier League defender Anton Ferdinand.
The virtual attendees shared their own experiences of abuse they or fellow team-mates have previously faced and discussed the need for greater diversity among the game’s leadership positions.
The online abuse of former England international Carney following her comments on Leeds’ promotion to the Premier League led to the pundit deleting her Twitter account.
In a recent BBC documentary, Ferdinand said he was scared to speak out during his high-profile racism case against John Terry in 2011.
Ministers aim to introduce new laws aimed at tackling online hate by holding social media organisations to account.
The Online Harms Bill, which is due to come before parliament this year, will require technology companies to treat online abuse the same as discrimination in the street and within football stadia and punish organisations if they breach online duty of care rules.
Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings, whose work in the fight against racial injustice was recognised after he was named on the Football Black List for 2020, said: “I was pleased that the Secretary of State wanted to engage with, and listen to, the thoughts of us as players and ex-players. Hopefully, this adds context when he attempts to deliver change on behalf of us.”
During Rainbow Laces week last year, Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson sent a supportive message to a Reds fan on Twitter who didn’t feel comfortable playing football during his youth because of his sexuality. The midfielder said he is delighted to see the government taking steps to address online hate in football.
He said: “I am personally really pleased to see the Government and DCMS leading to make change with the Online Harms Bill. Just like the leadership diversity code it’s the start of a journey of change, which is welcomed.”
DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden added: “To hear players talk about the level of abuse they have faced was humbling. Their input today has strengthened my resolve to bring in new laws to ensure there is much greater accountability from the social media platforms for dealing with such problems.”
A number of professional players have been targeted with racist abuse this season including Junior Stanislas, Bright Osayi-Samuel, and Ryan Sessegnon. Facebook, which owns online platform Instagram, took swift action recently to delete a user who racially abused Brentford forward Ivan Toney.
Football anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out reported a 42 per cent increase in abuse last year.
England’s first football hate crime officer Stuart Ward told Sky Sports News this month that an extended spell of matches behind closed doors, coupled with a lack of accountability and education, is driving more people to abuse players online in such a way that will damage their mental wellbeing.
The government is also speaking to various individuals within the game prior to formally launching a fan-led review into football governance.
Dowden said: “As we shape the “Future of Football” and look towards our football governance review, we must tackle issues around discrimination and lack of equality of opportunity head-on. I am grateful to this group of players for sharing their experiences and expertise to help the Government’s work.”
The Football Leadership Diversity Code devised by the FA in October last year stated that clubs must meet a 15 per cent diversity target when hiring for executive roles and 25 per cent in coaching roles in an effort to tackle inequality in the game’s leadership positions.
Chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board Paul Elliott said: “Just like the stakeholders and clubs have shown by signing up to the diversity code the Secretary of State, DCMS and the Government has evidenced genuine appetite and leadership for change.”
Micah Richards is hoping his documentary about racism in football will help him and the audience understand why such attitudes remain in society and what can be done to resolve this.
The former Manchester City and England defender has made the programme Micah Richards: Tackling Racism in Football, which airs on Sky Documentaries from Monday at 9pm, with the aim of exploring the reasons behind racism and how such attitudes can be changed.
Richards speaks from his own experiences of prejudice, which he says did not start until he began playing competitive sport.
“I’ve seen documentaries where people want to blame someone but that’s not what I want to do – I want to get inside the mind of someone,” said Richards.
“I want to know why they think a certain way and then maybe from my experiences see if I can change their way of thought.”
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