The spike in football hate crime requires a hard-line judicial approach similar to the one adopted by the courts after the 2011 London riots.
Iffy Onuora, the former Huddersfield forward who now works as an equalities coach for the Professional Footballers’ Association, said a “strong message” had to be sent out that racism in football grounds could no longer be tolerated.
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor says the union is “happy to lead” on lobbying the government to strengthen punishments for offences of racism, and Onuora pointed to the aftermath of the London riots as an example of how a shift in public policy can quickly occur.
The PFA calls for a government enquiry into racism and the rise in hate crime within football and immediate and urgent action from an All-Party Group at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport to address this urgent issue.
— Professional Footballers' Association (@PFA) December 22, 2019
In August 2012 the Ministry of Justice reported that a total of 1,292 people were jailed for their part in the unrest which began in London and spread to other areas of the country, with an average sentence of 16.8 months. At the time that was more than four times the average term handed down by magistrates’ courts for similar offences.
“We shouldn’t look to give people a slap on the wrist because ostensibly this is a crime,” he told the PA news agency.
“When the courts and the public policy makers do take it upon themselves to get things done quickly, they can do it and (the riots) was an example of it.
“The riots were civil unrest and there was a need to move very quickly. There isn’t the same immediacy in this in the fact that no one is rioting on the streets, but I’m trying to make the suggestion that actually where we are now, is it time to look at it in a similar vein and look at it with a similar degree of seriousness?”
The 2019-20 season has featured numerous instances of players reporting racist abuse from the crowd, with Manchester United players pointing out issues at the Manchester derby just last month.
“The PFA are happy to lead on this,” Taylor said.
“We will be lobbying the government to increase punishments for those found guilty of racist offences at football.
“That includes handing down custodial sentences. There needs to be a bigger deterrent. Enough is enough. These are hate crimes.”
In December the government appeared to reject the PFA’s call for it to lead an inquiry into racism in football, with Downing Street saying there remained work to be done by the football authorities to stamp out racism. However, it did not rule out taking further steps if required.
Home Secretary Priti Patel also said on December 23: “Those found guilty of a racially aggravated offence under the Public Order Act can face a sentence of both six months in prison and a 10-year ban from attending all football matches.
“We fully expect the entire football community to work with the authorities to
bring the perpetrators to justice so we can stamp this evil out of our national
The PFA’s call came after a match between Tottenham and Chelsea on December 22, in which Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger reported hearing monkey chanting.
An investigation by Spurs and the Metropolitan Police concluded earlier this month with neither party able to find any evidence of abuse towards Rudiger. Spurs said they fully supported Rudiger’s decision to report it.
Following the same match, a Chelsea supporter was arrested after allegedly racially abusing Tottenham forward Son Heung-min, after the incident was reported to police by another Chelsea fan.