Racism in football: Is it getting worse?

Not as easy a question to answer as it seems at first. It is safe to say though, that the issue of racism in football is certainly getting more attention than in any recent season I can remember.

The issue is rearing its ugly head right across the UK and across all divisions. The problem in England seems to be more race based, whereas the one is Scotland seems to be more religion based, or sectarian in nature.

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But weekend after weekend, there have been reports of racist or sectarian abuse in and around football grounds, sometimes accompanied by physical or criminal abuse, i.e. throwing of bottles at players, managers etc.

To be fair, the issue is not limited to the UK, and is arguably worse on the continent, with some appalling examples in Italy, Montenegro and several eastern/central European nations this season.

Understandably, coverage of the issue has increased a lot in all forms of media, especially given some of the egregious examples this season such as what Danny Rose experienced in Montenegro.

High profile footballers and others connected to the game have been willing to publicly address the issue, which is a good thing, as it raises awareness. The influence of camera phones and social media cannot be overestimated.

We have gone from people merely reporting on social media incidents of racist abuse at football grounds, to people actually filming such events in real time, and then posting them online accordingly. Which takes it to a new level, in that you're at times able to observe exactly what was said or done, as opposed to merely imagine it.

So, in light of all this, have the number of actual INCIDENTS of racist abuse at football grounds actually risen, or does it merely SEEM that way because it is so much easier to 'report' it now , and I use report in the loosest sense of the word?

My own view is that it is a bit of both. The frequency of these incidents has actually increased in my opinion, although perhaps not as much as the wider media coverage would suggest.

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West Ham has not been immune to incidents of racist abuse this season, which after 16 years as a season ticket holder, does not really surprise me. I have seen enough of it first hand over the years. The incident with Mo Salah comes to mind, and more recently, the exposing of WHU fans en route to Old Trafford singing the anti-Semitic Spurs chant.

Video of both incidents was widely available on social media, almost as soon as it happened. In my own experience at the Olympic Stadium, I have yet to personally observe any evidence of racism yet, including the night of the Liverpool game this season. This is in contrast to at Upton Park, where I observed numerous incidents of racist abuse over the years.

Ironically, though, I have found OVERALL behaviour at the OS to be much more yobbish than it was at UP, perhaps simply down to inadequate stewarding numbers at the OS, given the increased crowd capacity.

The Board is acutely aware of the problem, especially regarding anti-Semitism, and is committed to doing what it can to try to stamp it out. My sense up until recently was that other clubs, such as Chelsea for example, may have bigger problems with anti-Semitism than West Ham does.

When I observed the recent video of the WHU fans travelling to Old Trafford, that made me reassess my view.

It is no coincidence that racism in football either HAS risen, or SEEMS to have risen, because it clearly has become a problem in broader society. And realistically, we can only expect football to, by and large, mirror broader society.

We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that if racism remains a big problem in society, that it can be easily removed from football. What is ironic about all this is that we live in super 'politically correct' world, where supposedly, at all levels of society, racism is being frowned upon and tackled.

Yet, on the ground, I at times see evidence that despite this political correctness, we are really not making that much progress in combating racism. There is a lot going on SUPERFICIALLY to confront racism in society, but I wonder how much substance those efforts really have.

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Are we just paying lip service to reducing racism? Because if that is the case, then it is no surprise that despite increased public awareness, racism remains a real problem at football grounds and everywhere else.

A convenient scapegoat for an increase in racism in society in recent years is Brexit. And some may be tempted to use this as an explanation for increased incidence of racism in football as well. I myself am not buying it.

I freely acknowledge that Brexit is dividing this country like no other issue, as is the inability to actually deliver Brexit in a timely manner. But I reject the notion of blaming a deterioration of the issue of racism on the Brexit vote itself.

The polarisation of politics in Britain goes way beyond Brexit, though. And it's not just in Britain. It's in the U.S. and all across the West. I never recall in my lifetime the political divide between right and left as being as wide and bitter as it is now, with very little ground in the middle, worldwide.

This is leading to a very angry, frustrated and divided society. And one unfortunate consequence of that may be what we are seeing at football grounds this season. It doesn't excuse shambolic behaviour at football grounds, but it makes it slightly easier to explain WHY such behaviour is occurring. We live in a very ANGRY world. And that is being reflected in football.

One thing is clear to me. Resolving issues of racism in society and in football is realistically only going to occur at a glacial pace. I detest that, but I think that it's true. It seems to take decades, if not longer, to make real progress. What realistically can be done to address the problem in and around the game itself?

To me, it begins and ends with the criminal justice system. The approach of the criminal justice system towards race hate and its related crimes needs to change massively. Until it does, things like stadium bans, points deductions etc. are not likely to have a massive impact. And such measures punish the vast majority of law abiding fans.

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What WOULD change behaviour in my view is if the sentences for racist behaviour were made much more severe. Like TREBLE or quadruple what they are now. If people knew that the penalty for racist abuse was 10 to 20 years without parole, they just might think twice. But that would require political WILL. Will which clearly doesn't exist amongst our politicians.

The excuse is that prisons are already overcrowded. Nonsense. Build more prisons and lock up racist abusers for VERY long periods of time. That would be a lot more effective than stadium bans or playing games behind closed doors. In the absence of far more severe sentencing, I'm not optimistic of much progress being made in football or society at large in my lifetime on this issue.

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