FIFA World Cup: Plans made to try to stop footballers from facing racist abuse online | SBS Dateline

When Alan Bosch watched last year’s European Championship final – which was held between England and Italy at Wembley Stadium in London – he was holding his breath. But not for the same reason as his British comrades.
After 130 minutes of grueling football, both teams chose five players to line up in penalty shootouts to decide which country would be the European champions. When England’s Marcus Rashford, Bucayo Saka and Jadon Sancho missed penalties – and awarded Italy the title – few could have imagined what would follow.

But Alan says he was prepared for what would happen.

Alan Bush outside Wembley Stadium in London.

“So I just sat there watching the match. I watch the penalty shootout. I watched the second black player miss a penalty. And the first thing I do is pick up my phone and start looking for racist abuse.”

Alan has spent the past few years working as a fan education manager with the UK’s anti-discrimination football organisation, Kick It Out. He’s used to seeing racist abuse online.

On this occasion, the abuse came thick and fast. The three players who missed penalties came under a wave of attacks on social media from within the UK and around the world. Analysis by the Hate Lab found over 380 posts of hate speech per hour at their peak.

I watched the second black player miss a penalty kick. And the first thing I do is pick up my phone and start researching racial abuse.

Alan Bush

This year, Alan was running the first ever solo educational program with some of these bullies.
“It’s an issue within football and it’s an issue within society,” he says. “The reasons and excuses that came up were that I was upset.” “I didn’t mean it in a racist way.” “I was angry because they missed a penalty.” Some of them said, “I didn’t think the players would see that.”
“There was no justification and the reasons are very bad.”
A recent report by FIFA shows that more than half of the players who participated in last year’s European Championship final were abused online – and not just Rashford, Saka and Sancho.

The FIFA report showed similar levels of racist abuse online before, during and after this year’s Africa Cup of Nations final, which was held between Egypt and Senegal. As in England, the majority of the aggressors were from the players’ home countries.

The former star talks about his experience

It is a disaster that professional footballers have faced since the dawn of social media.
Louis Saha knows how it feels to receive this kind of abuse.

From 1997 to 2013, Saha played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, including Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham and Lazio. He also played 20 matches with the French national team.

A man wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Louis Saha near Nice, France.

“So England, especially going into the final, these three blacks miss the penalty shootout. He was an easy target for racists, people who aren’t even supporters. Some of them are just very aggressive eye-catchers,” Saha told Dateline.

In 2012, towards the end of his career, Saha faced similar online abuse. He was attacked in a racist tweet filled with insults and insults, which shocked him to this day.

Tweet with confused words.

The tweet that attacked Louis Saha.

“I’ve acted calmly like many other guys, because you can’t have any kind of solution that is drastic,” Saha says. “I needed to address it in a very reasonable way to make them realize that it’s not something that should be done. Everything online is not a game. It’s not funny.”

“When you attack me, you attack my family, those people who don’t care about football, they think this is a way to disrupt your game or disrupt your focus.

“I thought it had more to do with his problems and weaknesses. I was experienced enough to see it that way.”

A man wearing glasses and a hat.

Louis Saha speaking to Dateline.

Saha says the reaction of clubs and the football establishment at the time was muted, and while progress has been made over the past decade in England, there is still plenty of work to do across Europe.

You need strong support from foundations, clubs, cities and government in many ways. Those guys who decide who can make the change are in hiding. They are hiding because it costs them money. They are hiding because it takes time, and requires changing legislation,” he says. “A lot of other countries in Europe don’t deal with it.”

How is the situation in the matches?

Football’s challenges in combating racism and discrimination are not limited to the online world. a Conducted by Kick It Out during the 2019-20 season in England, it found that 30 per cent of people had witnessed racist comments or chants at a football match. Of those, 14 percent had witnessed racism in the past week alone.

And while overall reports of discrimination in and around the professional game for the 2021-22 season have decreased slightly compared to the past two seasons, there were still 380 complaints of discrimination in the final season, with reports of racism accounting for nearly half of those claims.

Afshan Mahmood first sensed the tensions in his football community in 2017, when his local club, Middlesbrough FC, who plays in England’s second-tier Professional Football League, approached him and asked if it would help him create a black fan group. Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) supporters.
“It’s basically the BAME community around the stadium and we didn’t feel like they had any voice in the stands,” says Afshan, who is now a central figure in fan group Puro Fusion.

“Historically, I think football as a whole has had a hooligan issue and a racial issue where BAME fans didn’t think it was a safe environment to go to the match. So, for example, my parents, they came to England in the 1960s from Pakistan and they never felt comfortable going to soccer matches. foot due to the stigma surrounding it.”

Three people watching a football match.

Afshan Mahmoud (centre) watches the Middlesbrough match with friends.

“Today, you come to a match and you think, can I really express myself? If I express myself, will I face any form of hatred?” Afshan says. “You are on the edge of the abyss.”

“Obviously one of the goals of Boro Fusion is to break down barriers, tackle the problem of racism, and make more of the BAME community feel that the stadium is a safe environment for themselves.”

Fears of abuse are happening again at the World Cup

This November, the world’s attention will once again be on football when the Men’s World Cup takes place in Qatar.

FIFA, the world football’s governing body, will use an in-tournament moderation service to detect and prevent online abuse targeting players – technology, FIFA chiefs say, that can scan recognized hate speech terms and prevent offensive messages from being seen by the recipient intended and its members. Followers.

I think football as a whole had a hooligan problem and a racism problem as BAME fans didn’t think it was a safe environment to go to the match.

Afshan Mahmoud

The past 18 months have also seen the introduction of a monitoring platform by the Premier League, as well as the Online Hate Football Working Group set up by Kick It Out to look into processes related to sanctions and enforcement.

And later this year, the UK Parliament is expected to complete the long-awaited Online Security Bill, which aims to impose a greater duty of care on tech companies to tackle abuse on their platforms.

Fans stand in the match Middlesbrough at home.

A section of the fans in the Middlesbrough match at home.

However, with Qatar on the horizon, Alan Bosch fears a possible repeat of the same hateful barrage seen after the European Championship final.

There was a national protest (after the Euro). I have personally provided tutorial sessions for the fans involved in it. There were a number of fans who ended up in prison for eight weeks, for 14 weeks.
“So I definitely think there was a precedent that gave rise to the euro and online abuse. And that fills me with a little bit of hope that it never happens again. But if you’re honest and want my honest answer, I think it could happen again.”

“And I think the more we do this work, the more we change our attitudes, the more we change our opinions, the more there are prosecutions, people go to jail for racial abuse of footballers. The more that happens, the more the football authorities take it seriously.”

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