Footballers of colour face a “stream of continuous abuse” on social media, Birmingham City FC’s Troy Deeney has said as he took part in a talk to educate youth players on hate crime.
Pc Stuart Ward, of West Midlands Police, was appointed in January and is the UK’s first dedicated football hate crime officer.
He was leading a talk with Birmingham City Football Club’s U23s at the team’s Wast Hills training ground on Tuesday and was joined by the club’s newest signing, Deeney.
Pc Ward said the visit was about helping players “understand what a hate crime is… and ultimately how they can report it and try and get them to (do so)”.
Hate crime is defined as when a person is targeted through hostility or prejudice because of their race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.
Pc Ward said youth players had “an important part to play within communities and society” as up-and-coming footballers who would have “influence” through their playing careers.
He added: “It’s an unfortunate position that my role exists, but it reflects society: it is happening, it has been happening for many years and I’ve said to the group, it will continue to happen.”
Only this month, an investigation by the force led to a 50-year-old man being convicted at Walsall Magistrates’ Court of racially abusing West Bromwich Albion’s Romaine Sawyers, after a comment made on social media.
At the start of September, England players Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham was subjected to monkey chants by Hungary fans – with football’s world governing body Fifa handing the country’s FA a £158,416 fine and ordering the country to play behind closed doors.
Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were also all racially abused online after missing penalties in England’s Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy earlier this year.
After hearing from Pc Ward, Blues’ U23s’ Tate Campbell said the outcome of the Sawyers’ case was “good to know” and had opened his eyes to the fact racism against footballers is leading to prosecutions, rather than just stadium bans.
Part-way through the talk, 33-year-old Deeney – who signed from Watford at the end of August – joined the young footballers, offering some of his experience and telling how they would have to take up the campaigning baton, as players like him retired to the “beach”.
Later, the U23s’ captain Mitch Roberts, said: “It was a bit mind-boggling really, I was thinking ‘you know what, it’s true’, he’s to be out of the game soon and people now need to step up.
“We know that our generation’s next, we’ve got to put things in place… just know that although at the minute we can’t affect much, we can think what are we going to do when we get there.
“We definitely took it on board.”
Deeney has campaigned alongside other high-profile footballers, including Anton and Rio Ferdinand, for tougher action and better education around hate crime and abuse.
Afterwards, Deeney praised Pc Ward’s “passion” and for giving the players a “direct contact”, to be able to report abuse to, adding “I think that’s a good thing”.
During the talk he had addressed the youth players directly telling them that for a man who would be “on a beach” in a few years, having finished his footballing career, they should consider how they can change the attitudes of people around them.
Afterwards, Deeney said he was reporting “about 50 (posts) a week” for abusive remarks on social media, adding “it’s just the way of the world, unfortunately”.
“People have a God given right, they feel, to contribute what they feel is good information about the colour of my skin or the colour of my kids’ skin,” he said.
He added that social media “gives you a false confidence – I suppose because there’s no accountability, there’s no verification for an account”.
Deeney told the players he had had a meeting with Twitter recently, to discuss the issue of online abuse.
“The biggest thing is ID, (account) verification, to at least allow for some form of accountability,” he said.
“Second of all, who is in charge of saying what is classed as a hate crime, if it’s a 55-year-old white man how is he going to know the empathy of what it feels to be racially-abused?”
He added “face-to-face” racism was still the reality for footballers, likening the bananas thrown on the pitch at John Barnes in the 1980s, to the monkey chants and cups hurled at Sterling by Hungary fans, earlier this month.
But he added social media meant footballers were “exposed to billions of people that can say whatever they want”.
Deeney said: “It is more visible… I don’t think it is as bad, face-to-face, as it was maybe in the 70s and 80s.
“But it certainly is 10 times worse in my opinion with the stream of continuous abuse (on social media).
“If someone misses a penalty now, or gets sent off as a black player, we all know it’s coming.
“If we know it’s coming; how come no-one has stopped it… no-one’s even putting anything in place that says you can’t call somebody the N-word, that’s the question.”
He said that “campaigning” over time was the answer to putting a stop to hate crime.
Deeney added: “These campaigns have to keep going until you can break the mould… then you’re going to have a new cycle of people that understand this is wrong.”
“It’s a slow process,” he said.
“I’m not naive enough to think the balance of power will be shifted just because we have had one conversation here.”
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