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Discrimination on rise across football, Kick It Out tells DCMS committee

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Football at all levels is experiencing a rise in instances of discrimination, Kick It Out’s chair, Tony Burnett, told the digital, culture, media and sport select committee on Tuesday.

Burnett was among a panel of experts to answer questions from MPs conducting an inquiry into safety at major sporting events, including issues such as personal security, accessibility and freedom from prejudice.

It comes in the wake of the trouble seen at Wembley and the Stade de France last year and worrying statistics for the 2021-22 season showing a rise in football-related arrests for the first time in almost a decade.

When asked by Damian Green whether the perception that football is going back to the 1970s and 1980s is based on anecdote or hard data, Burnett replied: “There’s definitely evidence in the space that we work in and that’s around discrimination. If you look at the UK Football Policing Unit, they released a report two weeks ago talking about a 99% increase in hate crime discrimination over the last season.

“If you look at the stats that we have around discrimination – and bear in mind that we’re only one source of reporting because 92 clubs have their own sources, which all need to come together – we see a significant increase in the year to date when it comes to incidents of discrimination.

“And that increase is across the board: it’s racism, it’s LGBTQ+ discrimination, it’s misogyny. We are seeing an increase. And it’s not just the professional game, if you look at grassroots football we’re seeing a significant double-digit increase in reports of discrimination there. I think it’s reflective of a broader dynamic in society, being absolutely honest.”

Burnett believes the disjointed system for collating and investigating discrimination needs to be overhauled as a matter of urgency. “We have to have transparency of discrimination-reporting data so we can see the full picture across the 92 football clubs,” he said. “That way we can see the trends but, more importantly, we can understand why the trends are occurring.”

The Football Supporters’ Association chief executive, Kevin Miles, called for a “sense of proportion” when discussing the rise in arrests for 2021-22, explaining that young fans needed to undergo an “element of socialisation” after the interruption caused by Covid.

“There are issues arising in terms of antisocial behaviour which are perhaps on the up, but we are talking about an increase in arrest figures when compared to an all-time low,” Miles said. “But some of the younger generation need to learn how you behave at football because perhaps that has been missed out on after the hiatus for Covid.”

The poor quality of stewarding was raised as a concern with low pay, lack of training and high turnover of staff pinpointed as areas that must be addressed to improve the matchday experience.

The University of Durham associate professor Dr Stacey Pope told the committee that “men’s football is not a safe, welcoming and inclusive space for women”, highlighting the lack of confidence in police and stewards to deal with incidents of misogyny, sexual harassment and sexual assault.

“Football is an operating in a vacuum here,” Pope said. “We know that public attitudes towards sexism and misogyny are changing so football needs to start changing too.”

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