Kicking out racism in football has missed the grassroots

Gillingham Town midfielder Eboni McCann reported he was racially abused by a spectator during a match against Bridport on October 9; Gillingham walked off the pitch in support of McCann and the game was abandoned, but the Dorset FA later charged the club with misconduct.

Talented midfielder Eboni McCann recalled his experience at the recent match where a spectator suddenly made a
racist remark during the game. Gillingham Town walked off the pitch and were later charged with a £150 fine for abandonment. The Bridport players also walked off in solidarity and the referee, who heard the insult, abandoned
the match. The fan was identified, removed from the ground and banned for life. Dorset Police say an investigation is ongoing after a 74-year-old man attended a voluntary interview.
Until I spoke to Eboni I had naively made an assumption that this type of incident just wouldn’t happen at a local game; certainly not in Dorset. But how wrong I was. Eboni explained how it made him feel. “Mostly I felt just shock and disbelief. And I was angry. It just came out of nowhere. I went over to speak to the person and he just thought he was allowed to say what he liked.” Speaking to Sky Sports News about the abuse, Eboni said: “The referee was giving a player a yellow card at the time it happened, so I went over to the referee and said ‘this spectator’s just said this’ and he replied ‘I’ve heard it’. I then went to the guy who said it ‘you can’t say that’ and he just replied ‘yes I can’. “He was so brazen about it, no remorse.”


Long lasting effects of racism


It may have just been a remark but the damage that racism can do is well documented. Racism has physical and psychological effects on people that can be damaging. It might be ‘just one comment’ but it can lead on to other problems such as children copying adults, bolder antisocial behaviour and more.


Standing up to racism


A lot has already been done in football to stand up to racism, but there is clearly still a long way to go. Eboni highlighted an issue that is very relevant to places like Dorset where there are lots of grassroots level clubs.
“I feel a lot has been done in the top tiers of football. There is face recognition at matches,and an established process of bans for example. In the lower leagues and at grassroots level, not enough has been done. No one has really challenged racism here. I hope the focus will soon be on the lower level leagues.”

Signalling


There’s also a perception of inconsistency between the leagues on racism. Eboni continued: “There are mixed messages with the FA as well. During the Euros, England could walk off the pitch. But when Gillingham walked off
they were fined.” A spokesperson from Dorset FA outlined the rules when players walk off the pitch. “If an England
player was racially abused and the team walked off they are still charged with abandonment. It’s the same for everyone.”

Education is not just for schools


I was curious to know what can be done to stamp out racism in the modern game, and approached both Dorset
Race Equality Council and the FA-funded Kick It Out, ‘football’s equality and inclusion organisation’ for comment.
Neither responded. Eboni gave me some insight into his thoughts: “To be fair, there is a lot more awareness, which
is good. In schools there is a lot of education now into racism awareness. But, some people and some of the older generation have grown up with some of this behaviour. More needs to be done to raise awareness there.”
A glance at the education resources on the Kick It Out website revealed some excellent material for schools and colleges. There is, however, nothing specifically aimed at the more mature generation who have grown up in an environment where some TV shows and other areas of popular culture broadcast in the 1960’s and 70’s would not be acceptable today. The man found guilty of racist abuse towards three black England footballers in the Euro 2020 finals was a 54 year old. That’s not to say that everyone in the older demographic is racist – far from it. Most people know that racist behaviour is unacceptable in today’s society; but perhaps more needs to be done to raise
awareness in places that have not previously been an area of focus. And all of us have a duty to stand up and call out racism.

UEFA’s new three step rule:
• The referee halts play and an announcement is made over the PA system, demanding that the behaviour stop
immediately.
• If the abuse continues once play restarts, the official will suspend the match for a “reasonable period of time”,
while both teams will return to the dressing rooms.
• The third and final step sees the referee abandon the match entirely
.

By: Rachael Rowe

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