Manchester United's Marcus Rashford takes a knee for Black Lives Matter.


There are mixed views within the Northern Ireland soccer community about the game’s support for anti-racism campaigns, Conchúr Richards reports

Racism has reared its ugly head once again in the 2020/21 Premier League season with several incidents that highlight that the issue of race and discrimination have not been “Kicked out” from professional football.

Local teams from Northern Ireland have been taking a stand against racism by implementing the taking of the knee before games, however, this has largely died out in recent months. Since July 2020, the Northern Ireland Football Association have implemented a number of programmes, including their “Show Racism the Red Card” campaign to tackle issues of inequality, racism and sectarianism within the sport, both at professional and grassroots level for all age groups.

Armagh Rovers squad member, Michael Moore, spoke on why, to this day, his team continue to take the knee in Armagh’s local Lonsdale League. “Personally, I take the knee alongside the team as a sign of respect. I play alongside lads from different countries and beliefs, and taking the knee allows us to unify behind the fight against racism.”

Michael also highlighted the sentiment that a lot of his team-mates share about racism being prevalent in the game and how social media is a massive factor in the fight against racism, “Unfortunately I don’t see racism in football ending anytime soon. I believe the social media platforms can do better to stamp out racist users, events and promote positive racial reinforcement”.

Since the 17th of June 2020, the restart of the Premier League after lockdown restrictions were eased, players of the twenty clubs unanimously decided to take a knee at the start of games to highlight the racial inequalities that continue to plague the game. On the same date it was announced that all clubs would wear a “Black Lives Matters” logo on their jerseys to further reinforce their continued support of the movement and that there is no place in society for racism.

On the 13th of June 2020, the Premier League launched its “No Room for Racism” campaign alongside this statement, “We, the Players, stand together with the singular objective of eradicating racial prejudice wherever it exists, to bring about a global society of inclusion, respect, and equal opportunities for All, regardless of their colour or creed. This symbol is a sign of unity from all Players, all Staff, all Clubs, all Match Officials and the Premier League #blacklivesmatter #playerstogether.”

Arsenal fan, Eoghan McArdle believes that the BLM Movement in collaboration with the Premier League has been detrimental in the fight against racism. “To be honest, it seems to have made things worse in terms of the amount of abuse players are getting.  I don’t know is there just coming out more now or if there’s more of it (racist attacks) and the Premiership are useless for it”.

Chelsea fan, Sean Sutton believes that the Premier League has reacted too late to the abuse and believes that more could be done to prevent attacks from happening. “I think it’s disgraceful that the issue even needs to be addressed as it shouldn’t be seen in football. I feel it has taken an awful lot for the Premier League to take action and the fact that action has been taken is very positive but, a lot more can be done to tackle the abuse of players online.

Even with all this vigorous campaigning and the public outcry from both supporters, players, coaches, managers and owners, the footballing world has been subject to several racist incidents throughout the course of the season. Some of the most high-profile cases have been racial incidents on social media against Manchester United players, Axel Tuanzebe, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. After a string of poor results these three players were targeted under their own social media posts with monkey emojis’ and racial slurs. It is the 21st century and with relaxed social media rules, people can create accounts and have the ability to be racist with little consequences or legal procedures to ever be taken against these individuals.

Head of the Northern Ireland, Manchester United supporters club, Philly Mckeever believes that unity from fans can help to stomp out racism alongside the efforts from the Premier League. “They are trying to tackle the problem but need the co-operation of all football fans in stamping out racism. There is no place for discrimination of any kind in society.”

 “Kick it Out” are a independent regulator that look to highlight and tackle racism within football, and they reported that in the 2019/20 season, “Overall, in the professional game we saw a 42% increase in reports of discrimination in total, up from 313 to 446. There was also a 53% increase in reported racial abuse in the professional game between this season and last, up from 184 to 282. Even more alarmingly, we received 117 reports of abuse based on sexual orientation compared to 60 last season – up by 95%.”

These statistics must be placed into the context of the past year of human history. The murder of George Floyd was the turning point and most of the world mobilised behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement and the Premier League helped to stand at the forefront of removing racism and discrimination from football and wider society. The world was beginning to recognise that racial injustice was still a prominent issue throughout people’s lives and with these recent racist attacks it only further reinforces that every aspect of life, including professional football, is subject to the same racist attitudes that have institutionally existed for many, many years.

Another Manchester United fan, Oran Darragh is sceptical of the BLM Movement being aligned with football’s biggest league. “In truth, I think the only positive to come from the introduction of the BLM is the fact that racism in the game is actually being highlighted now, it is a disgrace that it took yet another black man being killed by the police in America to prove to people that racism is still a thing in the modern world.”

Oran would go on to justify why he does not want the Premier League to align itself with a political movement by stating, “I think the Premier League were right to distance themselves from the BLM Movement and promote their own anti-racism campaign as the BLM Movement hold some questionable policies.”

Captain of Lisbellaw FC’s first team, Sam Lindsay, who is a Liverpool supporter, also shares the same scepticism as Oran. “I have very mixed opinions on the BLM Movement within the Premier League and the entirety of football. It’s no doubt that something needs to be done to rectify racist abuse in football because it happens way too often, however, I feel like its one of those things that no matter what you to do to stop it, it’s always going to happen.” Sam also criticised the punishments towards those embroiled in racist incidents, “The taking the knee aspect maybe meant something at the start but now it’s just something that happens as protocol nearly. I feel like stricter punishments need to be inflicted on people who are accused of and/or suspected of racism. They should be fined and punished heavily.”

Head of the Armagh, Tottenham Hotspurs Supporters Club, Oisin Richards believes that the Premier League themselves could do more to help prevent racism within the game. “I believe that the BLM Movement has increased the awareness of racism across society, but, I believe with the Premier League’s large viewership that they should be driving the fight against racism even further by promoting more campaigns against racism and introducing punishments against racists within stadiums.”

Chelsea fan, Sean, leaves us with a lot to think about with the statement, “Football is for everyone and no one should be excluded”. It’s clear that not every supporter agrees that the BLM Movement and the Premier League should collaborate with many being skeptical of both parties. It is time that as members of the human race and lovers of the world’s greatest game to take a collective stand against racism and discriminatory attitudes and highlight that aside from being a great sport, we as supporters, have the power to be the catalysts of change within society and have both the power and ability to stop racism and move forward as one race, one people, one footballing family.

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