We were reminded of it when Italy won the Euro 2020, “assisted” by three young English players missing their penalties in a row. Normally this would just garner criticism and angry remarks; totally understandable. Now, a wave of racist messages and public posts has hit England, with the whole world watching. In response to this disgrace, the public showered Saka, Rashford and Sancho with love and support. Racism in sports, and in football, is a major issue. Unfortunately, not one country or league is entirely free from its history, which negatively affects the rest of the fans, the teams, and the players. FIFA and UEFA have both came out with aggressive campaigns to combat the situation, but it doesn’t look very convincing, especially considering UEFA’s failure to support the LGBTQ movement. How then to fix it? We can’t presume, but there are several action items that at the very least wouldn’t hurt.
We, at Stari, have the fight against racism as one of our core values, and are acting on it. When an African player is joining our team, FC Dila Gori, we make sure that a local teammate is assigned to them to make them feel comfortable and adapt easily to the new conditions. Additionally, players are constantly monitored for undue stress and receive help when they need it. Ultimately the best way to prevent racist outbursts and attacks is through education. Stari invests in our players’ education, as we believe talent is not enough to become a complete player. Similarly, football clubs have to invest in education of their supporters. Nowadays we can’t think of a club without prominent African and African-roots players, making racists’ look ridiculous.
The fan organizations and the clubs themselves must reject the problematic individuals – block them on social media, prevent them from attending matches, etc. Next, they should apply collective pressure on the social media companies to identify and remove abusers as fast as possible, with full compliance with governmental authorities. As sports generate massive amount of content and engagement for tech companies, it is in their interest to listen.
Unfortunately, there are several technological and ethical issues to consider. The tech to filter content before it’s being sent, is not advanced enough, especially to differentiate between actual abuse and other messages. Natural language processing (NLP), which supposed to automatically remove offensive content, similarly struggles with context. Other issues are Big Tech companies handing just roughly half of their info to authorities and the absolute necessity to protect the online anonymity. Football clubs have to clean up the house, so to speak, in order to progress and make the sport equal and accessible to everyone. Because that’s what we are here for – to enjoy this beautiful game.