Discrimination in grassroots football rising with religious incidents showing biggest increase
By Rebecca Williams, Sky Sports News
Last Updated: 27/03/19 10:20pm
Reports of discrimination in grassroots football are on the rise, with religious-based incidents up around 1672 per cent in the last four years, according to figures from the Football Association.
Figures obtained by Sky Sports News show while race-related incidents reported to the FA at grassroots level have dropped by 25 per cent in the last four years, cases of religious discrimination are up from a minimum of 18 in the 2013/14 season to 319 last season.
Cases of discrimination on the basis of nationality are up an estimated 184 per cent.
FC Peterborough is just one club that insists it has experienced significant racial abuse.
Zeeshan Ali, 28, claims he was head-butted on the pitch and then later racially abused after the game. He has grown up playing football and even won a sports scholarship to an American university. But he insists the worst abuse he has ever received has been in England.
He told Sky Sports News: "We would get plane crash noises, so like 9/11 and stuff, shave your beard. Shave your beard was quite common. I was born and raised in England. I have a British passport, went to an English school. I live in a predominantly white area. I have always grown up with white people. For someone to say you shouldn't be playing this sport because of the colour of my skin is ridiculous isn't it."
FC Peterborough is a club with predominantly Asian players and insists racism happens at every level.
Arqaam Ali is captain of their U12 side and, recalling one particular experience last season, he said: "Players were calling us the p word.
"They were telling us to go back to places that we live in basically, like the chicken shop…it doesn't feel nice. It makes you feel upset in a way because it is saying you are messed up and shouldn't be there".
A number of grassroots clubs across the country have told Sky Sports News they have experienced racial abuse on the pitch. It appears many do not seem to have much confidence in the FA's complaints and reporting system, with one club saying it was now filming its matches to get evidence, should they need it.
Responding to that complaint, Dean Watson, the FA's only BAME chief executive, who works for the Huntingdonshire area, told Sky Sports News: "It will evolve. It has evolved from where it was five years ago to where it is now. It has progressed further.
"What I say to people, those clubs and my staff is to comment and to feedback. We need the feedback and information to be able to make changes and adaptations as we go. The current system is, I believe, a lot better. It is a lot clearer and a lot more transparent."
In local communities, action is being taken to make change, for example in Brixton, south London, they are trying to encourage more diversity when it comes to coaching.
Dr Colin King is the head coach at the Black and Asian Coaches Association and has written a book on discrimination. He said: "Unfortunately there are archaic individuals in colonial structures that don't want black people around. Racism is at a different level than it was 20 years ago. It's much more overt and less transparent.
"Our responsibility is to create opportunities for them not to experience the racism that we faced in a 20 year period, which was the worst racism you could experience. It has affected us psychologically as well."