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Social media giants told to work harder to end online abuse

Racism aimed at England players ‘appalling and completely unacceptable’

16 July, 2021 — By Richard Osley

Tony Burnett leads anti-racism organisation Kick It Out, based at Market Road

A LEADING organisation campaigning against racism in football hopes a social media crackdown will be a “game changer”.

Kick It Out, which began life as a small independent charity and now is at the forefront of the debate from its offices in Market Road on the Camden and Islington border, is joining the push to stamp out the abuse suffered on the online platforms – once again seen in the aftermath of England’s Euros campaign.

Tony Burnett, its chief executive, said: “The team reached their first ever Euro final and that’s something to be proud of. However, the racist abuse aimed at some of the England players on social media is appalling and completely unacceptable.”

He added: “We understand the police are rightly ­investi­ga­ting the abuse and we hope the appropriate punishment is applied. We will continue to work with our partners in football to drive discrimination out of the game, but we call on those with the power to act now. The social media companies need to do more to stamp out abuse on platforms, and the government also needs to step up and keep its promise to regulate. The Online Safety Bill could be a game changer and we aim to help make that happen.”

The late Cyrille Regis broke down barriers

Kick It Out, shortened from the original name of Kick Racism Out Of Football, had been set up to finally drive prejudice and discrimination out of the game.

There had been years of abuse for black players on the field in England during the 1970s and 1980s.

Cyrille Regis, alongside Brendan Batson and Laurie Cunningham, had been breakthrough stars at West Bromwich Albion but faced monkey chants from the stands.

Regis, who died three years ago, had begun his football on the amateur playing fields of Regent’s Park, while Cunningham had grown up in Archway.

In the 1980s, John Barnes – a pupil of Haverstock School as a boy – was famously pictured kicking a banana skin away from the pitch that had been thrown at him.

Painfully, these were not isolated incidents and on Sunday evening Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford may have been forgiven for thinking the clock had been turned back several decades.

Marcus Rashford speaks out against racism

Before the Euros, Mr Burnett had supported the England team’s decision to take the knee before matches. It was a symbol the players had said was important to them, but it was met by booing in pre-tournament friendlies.

“Jeering the players is also jeering what the gesture stands for,” said Mr Burnett.

Another group fighting for equality in the sport, Show Racism The Red Card, based in northern England, has also urged the govern­ment to demand that social media companies take more responsibility for dealing with the hate messages received by the players.

“Those responsible need to be identified and punished,” a statement said. “We need to make it clear that there is no room for racism or any form of discrimination in our society.

“The England players made that clear by taking the knee and now it’s time for us all to stand with them together.”

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