Social media abuse shows we’re failing to tackle racism in sport, claim Sunderland academics

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TORRENTS of abuse aimed at athletes on social media expose the myth that sport is successfully tackling racism, a new book argues.

FIFA has claimed that racism in football is in decline, while Prime Minister David Cameron recently argued the problem could be ‘easily crushed’ if people worked together.

But a string of cases, such as the racist Twitter abuse received by Liverpool and Italy striker Mario Balotelli this week, show that racism remains endemic in sport and wider society.

The new book, Sport, Racism and Social Media, argues sporting and other authorities have been complacent and slow to respond to the emergence of social media as platforms for racism.

The book, by University of Sunderland academics Neil Farrington, Lee Hall, Dr Daniel Kilvington, Dr John Price as well as Dr Amir Saeed analyses racist abuse of athletes across a range of sports including football, cricket, basketball, boxing and ice hockey.

It includes interviews with former Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) Chairman Clarke Carlisle, BBC Cricket Correspondent Jonathan Agnew, Deputy Chief Executive of the PFA Bobby Barnes and others.

Dr Daniel Kilvington, Associate Lecturer in Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Sunderland, said: “Some of the case studies are shocking and truly eye opening. For example, Joel Ward, an ice hockey player, was sent a barrage of racist tweets by opposition fans after simply scoring a goal.

“We argue that the language used would not have been shouted from the stands during the game because this would be considered socially unacceptable. Social media, however, allows users a covert platform to say what’s really on their mind.”

The book also discusses the frequently used ‘banter’ defence for racism, as employed by the League Managers’ Association during the recent racism scandal engulfing former Cardiff City manager Malky McKay.

Dr Kilvington added: “There is a common belief that we have entered a ‘post-race’ era and that race no longer matters. As a catalyst, racialised terms, which are highly offensive, are perceived as acceptable by some users. Racist posts therefore reflect a joke or a ‘bit of banter’ rather than being seen as what they really are, racist posts.”

In recent times Joshua Cryer was given a two-year community order after sending a series of racist tweets to former footballer turned pundit Stan Collymore and Liam Stacey was sent to prison after abusing footballer Fabrice Muamba.

In the new book, Clarke Carlisle, who now works for leading broadcaster ITV as a pundit, said: “Offenders should be prosecuted if the law is broken. That is simple. Swift, efficient and strict governance is the best way to tackle the problem. When people see and feel the repercussions of such actions, then they are deterred from indulging in them.”

The book argues that Twitter, and other social media, need to make more pro-active and genuine attempts at moderating and responding to racism on their platforms.

It also discusses new evidence, obtained from Freedom of Information requests, suggesting that police forces need to take a more coherent approach across the UK.

While sports authorities and groups have been slow to react to racism on social media, the book discusses recent attempts to improve this through improved guidelines, advice and reporting apps.

Dr John Price, senior lecturer in journalism, said: “Racism will exist in sport and on social media as long as it exists in society.

“It is best addressed through education and, unfortunately, slow social change.

“This is the only way to genuinely confront the underlying causes of the problem. The symptoms though can also be treated. Racism has found a new outlet in social media and this now needs to be tackled in a genuine and determined way.”