A new anti-racism policy won't fix anything
With superstar footballers emerging as our new moral leaders, venerated in murals across the land, new laws to protect them were bound to follow. The Government has stepped forward to do just that, with the modern equivalent of a law against knocking off a bishop’s mitre.
In an extension to the Football Banning Orders (FBOs) online trolls will be banned from attending football matches in the UK for ten years. It follows racist online abuse directed at black English football players after the final of the Euros 2020 competition.
The very existence of FBOs today might seem jarring to anyone who attended the game in the Eighties. In an era when away fans regularly dodged darts and bottles of urine, the perilous post-match journey back to the coach or train station was taken at a canter; if the home fans didn’t get past the police assigned to “protect” you, those police could take it upon themselves to give you a good kicking.
While few would say they missed that, it’s not uncommon to complain that today’s game is more characterised by organised clapping and ritual gestures of piety. Football has become one of our most popular middle-class activities; it’s cricket that can claim to be the most authentically diverse sport by class, as Jon Hotten has pointed out — and, including the amateur cricket leagues, by race.
Racism is repellent at all times, but today it has largely vanished from the terraces. It more visibly persists in the club boardrooms, with the curious reluctance of elite clubs to appoint black managers. Only ten have coached in the Premier League in three decades: several of those were caretakers, while other appointments were short-lived. As in corporate America, the focus seems more like a way of over-compensating and diverting attention.
The data behind the “torrent” or “tsunami” of racism last June fuels such suspicions. Twitter said it removed 126 Tweets in the aftermath of the Euro 2020 final manually after complaints from users, while the rest were removed by automated tools. Three quarters of the racist Tweets deemed to meet the criminal threshold by our Football Policing Unit originated outside the UK, something also confirmed by a BBC investigation. And measuring the likely offence caused is difficult too, as only 2%, Sky reported, had received over a thousand views.
A live attendance ban seems a strange way of dealing with foreign trolls who don’t attend the matches anyway, but maybe civil servants know that, and that isn’t really the point of extending the FBOs.
What we’re really looking at is a kind of mutual agreement between social media teams. The communications teams at DCMS and the Home Office have become adept at filling the dead space on Sundays and during public holidays with such pronouncements, which gather instant approval, but which are largely fatuous. The social media teams who devise the superstars’ media strategies, such as Roc Nation, will be flattered. The clubs and the League can congratulate themselves too. And the trolls on the troll farms will feel validated, and indulge in the fantasy that they represent a genuine threat to civilisation — and, no doubt, will try harder next time.