Armagh City FC's, Leo Monteiro (left) battles for the ball against Glentoran.

Discrimination gets the Boot

Discrimination within local soccer leagues aims to be eradicated entirely from the “Beautiful Game,” Conchúr Richards reports

Discrimination within football has become a prevalent feature within the modern game. Whether it be racism, homophobia, misogyny or sectarianism, these forms of discrimination have seen an increase with more incidents on the pitch than ever before.

Since 2019 the Northern Ireland Football Association have launched a number of campaigns to combat discrimination within the game.

One such campaign was an Executive funded Minority Ethnic Development Fund (MEDF) offered 12 BAME coaches the opportunity to gain Futsal Level 1 coaching awards in 2019, with the support of the Irish FA Foundation.

This year further courses are being staged using football to engage, include and support those in the community from BAME backgrounds.

This campaign was the first of its kind and paved the way for more initiatives such as “Show Racism the Red Card” and a number of workshops targeted at students to educate them on all forms of discrimination and why they should not be a part of football or wider society.

Local football leagues in Northern Ireland have been working in conjunction with the IFA to try and eradicate discrimination from the game, both at the professional and grassroots level. Former chairman of Armagh Celtic FC and former referee at a number of levels, Rory Campbell believes that sectarianism is still a massive issue within today’s game. He said “When I was refereeing, we rarely experienced racism as we had to deal more with sectarianism at that time as it was more prominent. When I have attended games since then as a referee observer for the IFA, I rarely see any racism. The IFA have their own campaign to eradicate it where possible.

Northern Ireland, in all contexts, whether it be sport or wider life, has always had to deal with sectarian issues. Due to the massive legacy conflict, “The Troubles”, issues of religion have always been a contentious issue, even on the football field. The conflict between Catholics and Protestants has spilled onto the pitch on a number of occasions. According to IFA records, sectarian incidents grew by seven per cent in the 2019/2020 football season in local leagues. This is a worrying statistic that football leagues have taken seriously to try and remove from the game.

The Mid-Ulster Football League have taken a strong stance on discrimination by saying, “As a league we are fully against all forms of discrimination, including racial”. They are an example of a local league that working in conjunction with the IFA to tackle incidents of discrimination and they have even implemented serious punishments for discrimination by reporting players and clubs to the IFA’s disciplinary council, where if found guilty the player/club would be permanently banned from competing.

Lonsdale League football team, Orchard Athletic, have also come out in support of the IFA’s new racism protocol. Manager of the club, James Clarke, has implemented his ruling upon his players and staff, “I can tell you now that if there was any form of racism or discrimination, that that player would be removed from the team and told never to come back. We would then inform the league to advise all clubs not to have him there.”

His hard-line stance is exactly what is required to remove discrimination from the game. He would go on to highlight his concerns with under-age football as well. “These days I am taking a zero-tolerance approach to these things. I now coach under 16 level too and the main coach is of the same understanding. With kids it’s always harder but has to be enforced all the same, but this time telling the parents the reasons.”

Seven a-side futsal in Northern Ireland has seen a massive surge in popularity over the past 10 years. Soccer 7 Northern Ireland’s league co-ordinator, Darius Dario has also taken a strong stance on discrimination, “It is in the league’s rules, we said if there was any racist incident that happens with a player who starts it, they will be disqualified from league games. It’s the same with all leagues I think”.

The IFA have also been working in conjunction with FIFA to implement stronger punishments even at grassroots level. The punishments include fines for both clubs and players, points deductions for clubs involved in discrimination of any kind, arrests where necessary and expulsions from clubs and leagues depending on the severity of the incident.

It is a welcome sight that these issues are being tackled with swift severity. There is no place in football for discrimination and with football’s governing bodies enforcing these hard-line stances, they hope it will be enough to push these issues out of the game. As a footballing community it is important to show unity against discrimination or else lasting change cannot be achieved.