Rise in racist abuse should concern all
Earlier this season, Romelu Lukaku was the recipient of racist chanting from his own supporters. Since that incident, Kick It Out, the organisation at the forefront of tackling racism in football has revealed some alarming statistics.
Midway through this season, the group has experienced a significant increase in reports of racist, homophobic and discriminatory incidents compared to the equivalent stage last season.
In all, 282 cases of abuse have been reported, both professionally and in the grassroots sphere. This represents a worrying 59% increase over the 177 incidents recorded midway through the 2016/17 season.
Racism has long infected the beautiful game. Its malignant, ignorant venom stains a competition designed to inspire and bring divergent cultures together.
Until recently, the general trend, not just in football, but in society, had suggested hate was slowly, thankfully declining. A new generation appeared to be casting away tired assumptions and egregious stereotypes, favouring a more inclusive and brighter future. This societal trend was supposed to translate into football.
These damning statistics imply racism is on the rise, however, and it should worry everyone. Rather than declining, hate had simply retreated, waiting for a more favourable moment to reemerge.
The inexorable bond between society and football has long been prevalent. Clubs represent their communities. They are the lifeblood coursing through the game's heart. Even if the once 'working-class' game has been diluted in deference to those who can afford the sky-rocketing prices of tickets, there still exists an undeniable connection between the club and its surrounding society.
Those at the top may forget it's a two-way street. Societal impression manifests into the footballing world, just as corporate branding trickles into the council flats.
The isolation between the two offers a reason for racism's resurgence. Politics is becoming increasingly polarised, divided by strong, uncompromising rhetoric that purposely seeks such division. Inflammatory language is hurled, whether it be from radical media outlets, such as The Canary of Breitbart, or the echo chamber of social media. Society mirrors the front in World War I. Each side bunkers in. It lobs missiles at the distant enemy. Anyone trying to cross the divide is ripped to shreds, whether or not--in fact, especially if--they wave a flag of truce.
Brexit is a visible signpost. A referendum fueled by political and societal outrage, enhanced by rhetoric that was as factually incorrect as it was stirring to the nationalistic nature in many Britons. Fear of change. Fear of the 'other.' A latent distaste for difference still resides in the so-called United Kingdom. Brexit cut its chains. It's only natural that distaste has crossed over into football.
Rhian Brewster gave a stunning interview to the Guardian, in which he spoke candidly about the racist abuse he has received at youth level. Such experiences, he said, occurred away from the UK. Reading that, it's easy to assume the problem doesn't exist in Britain. West Ham sacking chief scout Tony Henry for suggesting the club had a policy against signing African players demonstrates it has merely been swept under the rug. As Kick It Out's increased business proves, racism is still very much alive and 'kicking'.
One-third of the reports received by Kick It Out were based on abuse from social media; 88% on Twitter. A quick search for #GetOutOfMyClub will demonstrate the issue Twitter has with vitriol. The service responds quickly to reports, removing the most blatantly offensive tweets. What remains may not cross into racism, but it is shocking nonetheless.
Social media is largley an echo chamber. Offensive material is shared with a single click of the mouse, spreading across the world in an instant. Our ability to connect has become intrinsic to us. It is why I am writing this and you are reading it. But it works both ways. Social media is blind to whether it is transmitting positive or negative ideas. It only serves the user's desire.
Twitter's anonymity allows its users to express any opinion with unfiltered ease. Some who cross the line can be prosecuted. Most escape the clutches of the law. When one account is shut down, they simply open another.
Kick It Out's report should sound alarms in the footballing world, not just in Britain. It documents the ascension of an archaic mode of thinking. The twin hydras known as hate and fear have come back out into the light. They must be confronted.