If you’re a member of any marginalized group— whether based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, disability, or any number of vectors— and you’re in any way connected to English football, you’ve likely been unable to shake the feeling that you’ve become progressively less welcome. It turns out there are reasons for that.
Kick It Out, the nonprofit organization that monitors and pushes back on discrimination in English football, released a report earlier today showing that intolerance is becoming more widespread.
Overall, reports of discrimination sent to the group are up 2.5% for the 2015-16 season compared to the season before. Much of the increase is coming from social media, where reported incidents showed an 18% increase.
The single largest category discrimination concerns race, which was a factor in 54% of reported incidents (a 3% decrease from the season before). Incidents of religious intolerance clocked in at 20.5% (a 3.5% increase) while sexual orientation showed the highest rate of increase among specific categories at 17% (a 4% rise). While incidents at professional clubs are down 16% from the previous year, those same incidents that involve a player, coach, or club employee are up a whopping 86%.
The FA does its own reporting on discrimination in the English game but includes Kick It Out’s numbers. KIO represents about 45% of the total number of reported incidents per the FA.
A spokesperson for Kick It Out says that social media has made it a lot easier for fans and others connected to the game to share intolerant speech and encourage discriminatory behavior.
”We’ve noticed a shift whereby reported incidents are decreasing in stadiums, especially in the professional game, and social media is the place where supporters can post discriminatory language. It’s a change whereby abuse isn’t necessarily directed in person to someone’s face but the ease of social media means individuals can post instantly from behind a phone or keyboard.”
Kick It Out has been compiling reports for every season since 2012-13. Each annual report has shown an overall increase in discrimination in English football compared to the prior season.
None of this is particularly surprising. Western cultural and political discourse has grown increasingly toxic in recent years, in the UK and elsewhere. Herman Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out, specifically warned about the effects of Brexit on the social fabric of the English game earlier this year. As bigotry continues to be normalized in society at large, some of its most contentious (and potentially bloody) battles will be fought on the pitch and in the stands. And, increasingly, on Twitter. English football mobilized with terrifying efficiency to deal with hooliganism and poor crowd control practices, yet when it comes to homophobic chants or racist Twitter abuse the response from the FA and other empowered bodies has been painfully milquetoast. Better data is good, but it’s meant to be a tool used to accomplish a goal, not the goal itself.
It’d be easy to blame the rise in hate in English football on social media, but that would be a cop-out. People do what they think they can get away with it. Discrimination in football is on the rise because fans and others in football who want to sully the English game with racism, sexism, or homophobia have realized they can mostly get away with it.