Racism in UK football may not seem as widespread as in Italy or Spain, but this does not mean that such bigotry against footballers belongs in the nation’s past.
The abuse aimed at English players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka following their nation’s loss in the Euro 2020 final was the tip of the iceberg. Recently, during a match against Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur forward and South Korea captain Son Heung-Min encountered a racist gesture from a Palace fan.
But a remarkable difference between England and Italy and Spain is that both clubs condemned the abuse, with Crystal Palace banning the fan from future games, while the police launched an investigation. The Football Association and football clubs in England, and the United Kingdom in general, are vocal and proactive in condemning and investigating racial abuse, unlike in many other European countries.
In a Coppa Italia semi-final between Inter Milan and Juventus last April, Milan striker Romelu Lukaku faced racist chants from Juventus fans, and made a silent ‘shhh’ gesture to the crowd, which saw the referee send him off, and league suspend the Belgian international (the decision was later reversed).
Spain tells a similar ugly story. Real Madrid winger Vinicius Jr faced abuse from La Liga competitor Valencia’s fans at a clash last month, and threatened to leave the pitch. A general issue in the two south European countries is the lack of an organised condemnation of racism, which still remains isolated and practised by a minority of fans.
This goes beyond authorities implementing laws against racial discrimination to social media and sports culture, education, media awareness and a shift of perception, with teams and organisations like Kick it Out and Show Racism the Red Card, which monitor and condemn abuse in the UK.
Racism has not gone from football in England, but the nation can demonstrate lessons that other European leagues could follow.