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Footballers call time on social media racist abuse

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Social media companies must tackle online racist abuse before it’s too late, former footballer Anton Ferdinand told a Committee of MPs.


Giving evidence at the Home Affairs Select Committee, ex- Queen’s Park Rangers player, Mr Ferdinand, 36, said he had developed a ‘thick skin’ to racist comments, but was concerned other players wouldn’t survive abuse.

“My worry is – what are the social media companies waiting for, a high-profile footballer to kill themselves? Or a member of their family? That’s too late, they need to deal with the issue now.”

Research by the PFA (Professional Footballers Association) has calculated that 44 per cent of players in the Premier League have received discriminatory abuse.

Marcus Rashford: 11 arrests were made after racists at the Euros targeted the player and others, but there are no consequences for online racist abuse. Photograph: Soccer.ru / Кирилл Венедиктов

There was a notable spike in racist abuse following England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final, directed towards Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, resulting in 11 arrests.

The Home Affairs Select Committee met on 7 September to hear evidence from former professional footballers on the issue of online racist abuse against Black, Asian and minority ethnic footballers, as well as solutions.

Simone Pound, director of Equality Diversity and Inclusion at the PFA said ‘racist’ accounts shared with Twitter weren’t taken down three months afterwards despite the FA reporting them.

“We’re giving [Twitter] information, it’s not being actioned. We were staggered, it’s shocking.”

Former footballer, Marvin Sordell, said social media is a ‘consequence-free’ space, which itself encourages racists: “They have a free hit almost to damage someone at their very core.”

Miss Pound added that it was relatively simpler to punish racism that happens at matches: “The football stadium is the work environment for a footballer and has protective legislation which means we can hold perpetrators to account.”

Responding, Katy Minshall, Head of UK Policy at Twitter, said they are using machine learning to target abusive posts and are working with partners at the Football Association. “There’s no place for that kind of abuse on Twitter.”

She claimed that 95 per cent of abusive tweets had been taken down over the last football season.

It comes as a new documentary examines the legacy and impact of the Windrush generation on English football.

With many players of Caribbean heritage Standing Firm: Football’s Windrush Story is described as a ‘timely celebration of the role current players are taking in the continued fight against racism in football and wider society.’

The film made for Black History month, shown on BT Sport, will delve into the history of West Indian communities in the UK, and the future stars of footballers who grew up in their midst.

Former Manchester United striker, Andy Cole, whose father was a coal miner, speaking to The Sun said: “I remember [my dad] saying ‘It will be very difficult to make a living from that game. [Football].. it’s not for you.”

“It’s about recollecting: You can’t do this without your parents and grandparents….I know what they sacrificed to put me in that position. I reached the top.”

Watch the Home Affairs Committee evidence session here 

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