The impact of football on racism in the UK

Fatema Mulla - Junior Copywriter,

Alongside many others in the UK this summer, 26's Junior Copywriter, Fatema Mulla, was shocked and appalled to witness the onslaught of racist abuse proceeding England's unfortunate loss during this year's Euros. In this blog, Fatema shares her account on what happened, why and where we go from here. She also shares a number of amazing charities and resources set up to beat racism in sport and beyond.

We’re all well aware that the football didn’t come home as we’d fervently hoped and prayed for this summer, but what did come home was the spectre of racism in football and beyond. 

The England team that participated in this year’s Euros are a symbol of a multicultural and diverse nation compromised of players with rich and varying backgrounds. Seven of England’s players on the starting team for Denmark vs England came from immigrant backgrounds, such as Marcus Rashford whose grandmother is from Saint Kitts in the West Indies, and Harry Kane whose father is Irish. 

However, the diversity of the team has done very little to improve the state of race relations in the country and led to a more accepting and open-minded nation. In fact, the past few years have truly highlighted just how much of an impact football has on the levels of racism in this country. This issue came to light more than ever following the England team’s loss at the Euro 2021 final earlier this year, which resulted in such an ugly and upsettingly racist backlash that multiple arrests were made following the match

Upset that they had lost such a crucial match to penalties (during which unfortunately three black England players missed), many football fans unleashed their frustrations by leaving horrifyingly racist messages on the above mentioned players’ social media. If that wasn’t bad enough, numerous violent and targeted physical attacks took place towards innocent Asian and African fans following the final.

Understanding the relationship between football and racism

For almost forever, football has had a significant impact on the state of racism in the UK. To the soar in solidarity and acceptance towards players of colour whenever England scores or wins to the devastatingly intolerant and abhorrently racist attitudes that rise after a loss is a prime example of just how much the game can cause drastic shifts in sentiments towards those from different backgrounds and races, despite Britain being a diverse and multicultural nation. 

This is not a new concept, either – research has shown time and time again that football players of colour face discrimination on every level – from online abuse all the way to lack of coaching and training opportunities. If this isn’t bad enough, the British press is also relentless in their racist portrayals and treatment of players, and often hold white players to a much higher standard than players of colour. 

Most of the racial stereotypes that are found in football – and sport in general – can be traced back to the pseudo race sciences that emerged in the 1800s that stated white people were “the most evolved race in terms of intellect, morality and character as such, do not require physical prowess.” This outdated and outright abhorrent claim still influences the mindsets and attitudes of many today, and is apparent in the way that players of colour are treated compared to their white counterparts.

It’s not just football…

Violently racist and prejudiced attitudes are unfortunately not just limited to the world of football. Professionals performing in various sports across the country have also encountered similar experiences and racial abuse and attacks. 

Many players of colour still receive backlash and racist abuse even after a win – a prime example of this occurred not too long ago when seven-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton scored a dramatic British GP win yet still received a gross amount of racist abuse online. Win or lose, athletes and sports professionals of colour are still unfairly targeted and harassed by racists.

Is it getting worse? 

The state of racism in the UK in 2021 should realistically be miles better than it is. In fact, it should no longer even be an issue, so why does it seem like it’s actually getting worse? And what can be done to combat this? 

After the appalling treatment of players following the England football team’s loss at the Euros earlier this year, many fans, supporters and individuals alike actively began to work towards trying to find ways to put a stop to this once and for all. Even prior to this, players during the Euros began to show solidarity by taking a knee in order to silently and respectfully protest racial inequality. This gesture was met with contempt from not just fans but also politicians and commentators too – highlighting just how deep racism really runs in this country. 

The abhorrent discrimination reached such levels that multiple arrests were made after horrid racist abuse was hurled online towards Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, with over 600 reports from across the country – 207 of which were highly criminal in nature – were made following the Euro 2020 final. 

Multiple petitions have been launched and investigations have taken place, but this is not nearly enough action to change racist attitudes and inform and educate those who have an outdated and sinister point of view when it comes to sport players of colour. There is still work to be done. 

Further reading and charities to donate to: 

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