Sport for Peace and Development Practitioner and equitysport contributor, Judith Macharia takes a deep dive into racism in global football, with a particular emphasis on the scourge of racial discrimination outside of the Global North.
Part two delves into the efforts being made to combat racism across the world...
2020 marked an important landmark in the fight against racism as heightened levels of protests and calls to address the vice took centre stage globally. Sports leaders in various leagues and federations have also played a pivotal role in the fight through diversity campaign programs. In spite of the significant efforts, we are still left with the question: Do these measures and strategies provide sustainable solutions to eliminating all forms of discrimination?
Recently, we have witnessed numerous cases of fans racially abusing players and coaches on social media platforms. Considering that fans have not been allowed in the stadiums, it would be right to assume that the same would be so in live matches. I have heard people argue that sports invoke a lot of emotions, and the hateful comments only come out when a team loses, they don’t actually mean it. From my standpoint, the idea that a sport prompts people to propagate hate means these individuals already harboured the hate, and they only needed an excuse to channel it. This implies the problem is far from being solved.
The world football governing body, FIFA developed a Diversity and Anti-Discrimination policy document to boost the global fight against racism in the popular sport. The English Premier League (EPL) also took up the cause through the #SayNoToRacism campaign, which also involved players taking a knee before the start of every match. Other leagues around the globe supported the idea of taking a knee, and openly spoke against racism. To judge this as simply performative would be harsh but perhaps fair.
It is clear that racism is not only present in Europe but across different continents, however the incidents outside Europe haven’t gained much publicity, both from the fans nor the media elite, which undermines the chances of eliminating racism in sports. In addition, FIFA has not developed monitoring strategies to ensure compliance of the Anti-Diversity policies across different leagues or imposing sanctions against leagues that condone these actions.
In addition, the governing body of football in Africa, Confederation de African Football, has also not looked into racism in the African context. In fact, the leadership has condemned racist attacks in Europe without addressing what happened in Tanzania with Yanga SC. Any international federation must remain conscious of the challenges within its systems to fully develop the game. The call from SAFA to deny Luc a work permit, and even sending the complaint to FIFA, should have been the African Federation’s role to play in their capacity as the central leadership body.
Recently, The EPL launched the No Room for Racism Action Plan, which aims to increase representation of the ‘minority groups’ in executive leadership and technical positions, as well as education for diversity programs targeting the younger generation. They also adopted a Premier League Equality Diversity and Inclusion Standard (PLEDIS) to build on the Premier League Equality Standard created in 2015. The PLEDIS provides a framework for supporting clubs in setting clear targets to increase diversity, inclusion, and equality within the institutions.
During the PLEDIS process clubs are required to submit extensive evidence to prove that they are meeting the requirements set to espouse inclusion and tackle discrimination in various areas of work. The EPL also launched a reporting system for players, managers, and coaches who experience discriminatory online abuse. Moreover, LaLiga developed LaLiga Genuine, which is a league for players with intellectual disabilities where 36 LaLiga clubs are signatories to.
The majority of these strategies were developed in 2021, when I had already begun writing this article. As such, I was reluctant to proceed since I felt action was being taken. However, the fact that most of the initiatives are coming from the English Premier League, and not evenly distributed across the other top 5 European leagues, deemed it necessary to call for more action.
I strongly believe that racism can only be solved through deliberate efforts by the leadership. The campaigns have been great for sure, but I don’t think a player kneeling down addresses the real concern. In fact, some players such as Brentford' s Ivan Toney think it has lost meaning and only made the leadership more relaxed about taking real action; the club itself has gone ahead to stop the act. Crystal Palace’s Wilfred Zaha is of the opinion that kneeling is degrading and contrary to what black people should do, stand tall against it. Crystal Dunn of the U.S Women’s National Team posits that “it’s what we do behind the scenes that matters.”
After all is said and done, if a black person cannot be entrusted with leadership, it only enforces all the negative attitudes towards them. Furthermore, leaders in football should adopt more stringent measures to punish offenders; banning a fan from the stadium is not an effective mechanism of dealing with a large-scale issue; impose heavy fines on the clubs so that they also implement stricter policies against racist fans, and be more purposeful about ensuring diversity. In addition, more policies and practices aimed at providing sustainable and long-term solutions with regards to inclusion should be encouraged.
Mandela once said, “Sport has the power to change the world, and unite people in ways that little else does.” If we talk about tapping into the potential of sport to promote inclusion, peace and development, sport itself has to lead by example. It is my hope that we will see more deliberate efforts to end racism and other forms of discrimination, both in sports and our societies.
Judith Macharia is a Sport for Peace and Development Practitioner, MD of the RO Sports Academy in Kenya and a contributor and advisor to equitysport. The views and opinions stated in this article do not necessarily reflect those of equitysport.
equitysport is a UK-registered charity (1189559) that exists to promote and advance equality, diversity and equal opportunity in and through global sport. Through free-form development, education programmes and targeted advocacy the charity seeks an inclusive and equitable sporting ecosystem that lives up to the true values of sport.