The only way to end abuse is to fundamentally change football’s culture in a similar way to how fan-violence of the 1970s and ’80s was driven out, according to the new boss of Kick it Out.
Tony Burnett does not believe discrimination will ever be fully eradicated from the game, but insists that remains Kick It Out’s goal in an exclusive interview with 9jabase Sports News.
Full Q&A with Kick It Out boss Burnett
Read the full Q&A transcript as new Kick It Out boss Tony Burnett sits down with Sky Sports to discuss the fight against online abuse, discrimination and racism.
Burnett joined Kick It Out as their chief executive earlier this month having served in the West Midlands Police as their assistant director for diversity and inclusion.
Kick It Out is English football’s equality and inclusion organisation, and since 1997 has tasked itself with tackling all aspects of discrimination, inequality and exclusion in the game.
Following his arrival, Burnett has already identified three key areas in which he wants to focus; reporting incidents of discrimination, education and guidance, and talent development, so that more minority groups are represented and employed within football.
In recent months, high-profile Premier League players such as Manchester United’s Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah and Chelsea’s Reece James have been subjected to online racial abuse.
Burnett believes police resources are too stretched to deal properly with online hate, and mass boycotts of social media companies may be the answer, until they make users more accountable and more identifiable for the comments they make.
Responding directly to Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka’s comments online abuse “will kill football” unless it is rooted out, Burnett said: “Xhaka isn’t the first player to face abuse from his own supporters.
“I think we need to ask the question why right-minded people quite often think they can behave in ways, when they enter the sphere of football, that they wouldn’t comprehend in other areas of society, or in their workplace.
“Football seems to create an environment where men of a certain disposition think it’s ok to be abusive. Toxic masculinity in football is a problem. Middle-class, educated men behaving in a way they wouldn’t even consider in any other walk of their life.
“The violence has been eradicated in football, but this hasn’t, and we can’t allow it to carry on.”
Burnett adds he believes the traditional aggression delivered from the stands towards the players on the pitch is key in understanding the roots of online hate.
“What happened to Xhaka is an example of that,” he said. “A crowd becoming a collective source of abuse, and it’s manifested in social media and in the ground. It’s not acceptable in normal life, why is that acceptable in football?
“We can’t resolve this alone, and we are working with all football’s stakeholders to try to eradicate it. There isn’t a simple solution.
“But we need a united voice that says this is wrong. Absolutely we have to put pressure on social media companies to take action against perpetrators and that they’re stopped.”
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Kick It Out reporting racism
Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices, and campaign for positive change.