Sports minister Mims Davies says Britain must lead fight against racism in football

Sterling Raheem Montenegro England
Image: Raheem Sterling has been praised for taking a stand against racism in football

Sports minister Mims Davies has told British football it cannot lecture the rest of the world on the evils of racism if it does not tackle discrimination at home first.

In a speech to the House of Commons on Thursday, Davies said the government is "concerned" about the rise in racist abuse in the game, "which threatens to overshadow everything we love about our national sport".

The Conservative MP for Eastleigh listed several recent examples, including the alleged online abuse Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha was subjected to, as well as the "appalling scenes" in Montenegro last month, when several of England's black players were targeted with racist chanting by the home fans.

Callum Hudson-Odoi during England's win over Montenegro 1:01
Callum Hudson-Odoi, making his first start for England, reveals he heard monkey chants in Montenegro during England's 5-1 win

Davies said she welcomed the Football Association's call for European governing body UEFA to take robust measures against Montenegro and other countries where discriminatory abuse is common but pointed out that there is no room for complacency here.

"If this country is going to show the rest of the world that this behaviour is intolerable, then we need to ensure we are making all efforts to combat discriminatory behaviour domestically," she said.

Wilfried Zaha won a penalty for Crystal Palace at St James' Park 0:38
Wilfried Zaha says only tougher punishments will deter people from racially abusing players and that social media only makes the problem worse. (Warning: Flash photography)

The minister then referred to two recent stories from grassroots football where the authorities treated the victims of alleged racism as harshly as the perpetrators.

In one case, Lancashire's Padiham were fined £165 by their county FA for walking off the pitch after their goalkeeper was abused by supporters at Congleton Town, who received a £160 fine for their fans' behaviour.

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Gareth Southgate 1:41
England manager Gareth Southgate condemned racist chanting towards his players in Montenegro during their 5-1 win and said England will report the abuse.

And in another case, Wythenshawe Town's manager James Kinsey has been suspended for taking his team off after the alleged racial abused of one of his players by an assistant referee.

"It cannot be right for clubs to be fined for players taking action and walking off the pitch if they are receiving racist abuse," said Davies.

"It is vital that players are supported. This sends out the wrong signal. The FA must review whether their rules and the guidance they give to clubs is effective in these situations."

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Wythenshawe Town chairman Chris Eaton has called for better dialogue with football's stakeholders after his manager was sanctioned for leading the team off following an alleged racist incident involving a match official

The minister then reminded MPs she had invited anti-discrimination campaigners, fans and the various football authorities to a "summit" in Westminster in February.

As a result of that meeting and subsequent conversations, she said hoped the game would introduce a series of new measures before the start of next season, including a review of football's current sanctions, closer links with police to identify and punish offenders and more support and training for stewards and match officials.

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Tajean Hutton, grassroots manager for Kick It Out, believes the FA needs to provide more funding to tackle racism in football

These ideas were welcomed by MPs from all parties, several of whom also drew attention to the positive work being done by the likes of anti-discrimination campaigners Kick It Out and education charity Show Racism the Red Card.

Shadow culture minister Tom Watson also praised the "bravery" shown by the victims of racism during games but said "they shouldn't have to be brave, they are just trying to do their jobs".

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Kick It Out's education manager Troy Townsend has called for strong and decisive punishments to be handed out to individuals guilty of racist abuse at football matches

Watson suggested the Ministry of Justice should encourage prosecutors to "give football hate speech a higher priority and employ harsh sentences" and asked the government to increase the funding for anti-discrimination education programmes.

But the Labour MP also highlighted the role of social and traditional media, asking Davies if she would include racist abuse of sporting figures in her "online harms consultation" and called on news outlets to be "more responsible" in the way they portray black players.

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