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Russia 2018, Racism and the Plight of England's Footballers

The World Cup in Russia 2018 is fast becoming a lightning rod for many of the unresolved global issues concerning racism and discrimination in football.

Russia 2018 Racism and the Plight of Englands Footballers

Not least because over the seasons 2012-2014 a Moscow based research centre (SOVA) and Fare the European equalities in football organisation that informs UEFA, concluded that racism and xenophobia are serious issues for the host to the FIFA 2018 World Cup. Ethnic minority players and fans are subject to regular neo-Nazi abuse where their paraphernalia is commonplace. Regional hatred toward visible minority ethnic groups, and homophobia, are part of the pattern that led to the Russian Federation being fined because French footballers were racially abused by fans at a ‘friendly’ in 2018. The fine of £22,000 doing little to appease antiracist organisations and critics of key football stakeholders such as UEFA and of course FIFA.

There are many reasons suggested for why football stakeholders like FIFA and national governing bodies continue to underestimate the nature and extent of racism in the game. Some argue that for many in football racism comes in waves, making it a challenge to maintain it as an ongoing priority. Others would say that piecemeal approaches to spikes in racism peppered with reactive responses typify the institutional response to racism in global football. This is reflected in FIFA establishing its Taskforce Against Racism and Discrimination in 2013 and three-and-a-half years later in 2016 stating to Task Force members “The FIFA Task Force Against Racism and Discrimination was set up with your help on a temporary basis to develop recommendations for FIFA. We are therefore delighted to inform you that all of the Task Force’s recommendations HAVE BEEN IMPLEMENTED… We won’t mention Sepp Blatter who stated that on the field racism can be resolved with a handshake.

It was sad to read Dominic Fifield reporting in the Guardian on the 23rd May that England squad members were Worried about racial abuse of family and friends. Precautions were being put in place to support them through an FA psychologist, stadium observers and special instructions for teams and officials about what to do if racism is experienced by the players. Yet, not to defend Russia, we know that similar issues are manifest in British football. Today in the Guardian, Stan Collymore sheds further light on the issue of race being a significant factor in the recruitment of managers and his own experiences of racism in British football. We need to do more than name and shame Russia. For many people racism is always ‘over there’ and never ‘over here’. Lest we forget John Terry’s abuse of Patrice Evra or the Chelsea fans racially abusing passers-by on the Metro, Gareth Southgate bravely announced in March that England needs to Get its own house in order! We second that.

Professor Kevin Hylton, Head of the Research Centre for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and Emeritus Professor Jonathan Long

Institute for Sport, Physical Activity and Leisure

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Leeds Beckett University

Professor Jonathan Long

Professor Kevin Hylton

Kevin Hylton is Professor of Equality and Diversity in Sport, Leisure and Education. He is also Head of the Research Centre for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. His research focuses on the nature and extent of 'race', racism and racialisation in sport, leisure and education.

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