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Football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia, says first Muslim FA Council member Yunus Lunat

FA Council's first Muslim member: "Football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia"; Reports of faith-based discrimination received by Kick It Out in the first half of 2023/24 season rose almost 500 per cent compared to 2022/23, including four-fold increase in Islamophobia reports

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The first British Muslim in the history of the FA Council, Yunus Lunat, says Islamophobia continues to stain English football amid rising reports of faith-based discrimination in the game

The first Muslim member of the FA Council has told Sky Sports News that "football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia" amid a four-fold increase in the number of incidents reported to Kick It Out in the first half of last season.

Yunus Lunat, who is the former chair of the FA Race Equality and Advisory Board, pointed to a spate of incidents over the last 18 months - and how they have been dealt with - which he believes illustrates how Islamophobia is not being treated as seriously as other forms of discrimination.

It comes after a Player Care consultant for Burnley Football Club received a formal warning from the Football Association for liking a number of Islamophobic posts on social media in the latest unsavoury incident over the last year-and-a-half.

Burnley and the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) have been approached by Sky Sports News for comment.

'A stain on the English game'

Lunat, who served on the FA Council in 2013, told Sky Sports News: "It's a stain on the English game. I've been saying for many years now that, sadly, football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia.

"Whilst it has made improvements in its processes and dealing with complaints of discrimination, that includes Islamophobia, there seems to be almost a double-standard or a lack of seriousness when it comes to complaints of Islamophobia.

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Former Arsenal and QPR youngster Taff Rahman opened up to Sky Sports News back in 2019 about the Islamophobia and abuse he suffered as a young player (Warning: video contains offensive content that users may find upsetting)

"Football deals pretty well with racial complaints, complaints of homophobia and around other protected characteristics, but football does not appear to have the ability or wherewithal to deal with Islamophobia with the same seriousness.

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"There almost seems to be a hierarchy of discrimination around what gets acted upon.

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"I just do not understand why football continues to have this problem and issue."

FA: Islamophobia has no place in football

A Football Association spokesperson told Sky Sports News:

"We treat all forms of discrimination, including Islamophobia, very seriously and we are very clear that it has no place in our game.

"We continue to work with our partners across English football to collectively drive out this unacceptable behaviour, and through new measures and tougher sanctions for perpetrators, we want to make sure that everyone can play and enjoy the game in a safe and welcoming environment.

"We are pleased to have FA representation on Kick It Out's Islamophobia Working Group and we welcome the opportunity for football to have a shared understanding. As the national governing body, we are looking at how and where we can practically apply a working definition of Islamophobia within the governance structure of our game."

Lunat calls for consistency

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Yunus Lunat, former Chair of the FA Race and Equality Board told Sky Sports News last year that the FA had sent a powerful message by appealing the suspension of former Crawley manager John Yems and it having been extended until January 2026

At the beginning of last year, a former Aston Villa Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer was also warned, rather than charged, for a number of historical Islamophobic posts made on social media.

But the FA were successful in appealing a 17-month suspension handed down to former Crawley Town manager John Yems by an Independent Regulatory Commission for discrimination.

Yems had admitted to one charge and was found guilty of 11 of a further 15 charges brought against him for breaches of FA Rule E 3.2 over comments that "included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief and/or gender" to Crawley players between 2019 and 2022 while he was manager.

The ban was upgraded to three years - the longest ever issued to a participant in English football for discrimination - after the appeal board said the initial finding against Yems was "untenable".

But the FA did not appeal an eight-week suspension and fine handed to Millwall's head of youth recruitment by an Independent Regulatory Commission at the beginning of 2023/24 season for a breach of their social media activity rules, relating to an anti-Islamic post.

Lunat, who is a member of Kick It Out's newly-formed Islamophobia working group, said there needs to be more consistency when it comes to charges for rule breaches in order to restore trust and win back the trust of diverse communities across the game.

"There needs to be a consistency of approach," Lunat added. "It sends out a message to communities that Islamophobia is not a priority.

"Communities lose confidence, because it sends out the wrong message and we go backwards.

"Football seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia and these recent cases sadly highlight and confirm our fears."

Football's Islamophobia problem

Sixty seven per cent of those who experienced discrimination over the past years say they experience it less often due to the work of Kick It Out

There was a four-fold increase in reports of Islamophobia in football in the first half of the 2023/24 campaign compared to the same period the previous season. That followed on from a 300 per cent increase in reports of Islamphobic abuse received by Kick It Out during the 2022/23 season.

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Muslimah Sports Association Chair and London FA director Yashmin Harun welcomed the guidance issued to match officials last year to create an opportunity to allow Muslim players to open their fast during evening games across the holy month of Ramadan

Kick It Out's Islamophobia working group members include the organisation's chief executive Tony Burnett, Aldershot Town chair Shahid Azeem, former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, FA director Yasir Mirza, broadcaster Reshmin Chowdhury and Muslimah Sports Association chair Yashmin Harun.

Kick It Out wrote to football's governing bodies earlier this year urging them to adopt the working definition of Islamophobia after receiving a rise in reported incidents during the season.

Yunus Lunat, Azeem Rafiq, Abu Nasir, Butch Fazal
Image: (L-R) Yunus Lunat, Azeem Rafiq, former FA National Game Board member Abu Nasir and FA Coach Inclusion and Diversity Manager Butch Fazal attend the Sporting Equals Awards

The letter was sent ahead of March 15 - the United Nations' International Day to combat Islamophobia - after consultation with Kick It Out's Islamophobia Working Group.

The call came after Kick It Out successfully lobbied football to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance's working definition of antisemitism in 2021.

Anti-Muslim hate across the UK rose by 375 per cent in the four months between October 2023 and February 2024.

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CEO of Kick It Out, Tony Burnett, admitted that the high levels of discrimination that were reported during the 2022/23 season were 'concerning', but encouraged fans to 'take a stand' whilst welcoming the Online Safety Bill to force change

The charity Tell Mama recorded 2,010 Islamophobic incidents - up from 600 during the same period the previous year - which is the largest number over a four-month period since the charity began in 2011.

Kick It Out also revealed last year that they had received a record 496 reports of discrimination at grassroots level during the 2022/23 campaign, up 51 per cent from the previous season.

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