Kicking out the prejudices: leading to football’s path to inclusivity

It is Sunday the 11th of July 2020 and football fans are impatiently waiting for the finals of the European championship which will take place in one of the most well-known stadiums in England and furthermore in the world, the Wembley stadium. It is the place where dreams will come true for one of the teams, England or Italy. The match starts with the lead of 1:0 in England’s favor, however in the second half Italians manage to equalize. The best conclusion to this exciting match are penalty shootouts which hold fans on the edge of their seats. After 10 penalties Italy wins with the final score being 3:2.

Following the end of the match, there was a wave of racist abuses on social media platforms that made the heartbreaking moments of the three Black English players missing crucial penalties even harder. Due to their skin color, those players, who had played on the biggest European football stage, were subjected to vile and hateful messages. That incident reminds one of an issue that is deeply rooted in English football culture: hooliganism. Historically, hooliganism has plagued English football, with violent and disorderly behavior often overshadowing the sport itself. The intersection of hooliganism with online racism creates an even more toxic environment where Black players are not only targeted on the field but also face threats and abuse from so-called “fans” off the pitch. The toxic combination worsens the obstacles faced by Black players and negates efforts to promote inclusivity in sport.

It seems crucial to acknowledge the historical context that explains these problems. The legacy of the British colonial empire has left a significant impact on how society views race, both in England and across the world. The colonial era promoted notions of racial superiority and inferiority, which are still present in various forms of discrimination and prejudice today. The historical background contributes to explaining systemic racism in football and highlights the need for collaborative efforts to address and dismantle these deeply entrenched structures.

Petar Antic,

The Euro 2020 final between Italy and England was a match that was seen by millions across the world as the fans grew faster to see the display between the giants of football, the pressure rising with each second and minute towards the match’s end. As it turned out, the last remaining step was the penalty shootout held out as the final decisive moment of the game; defining the success of two teams. What then followed would throw a dark shadow over the entire event, revealing the pivotal element of the game. It was these young footballers, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, and Marcus Rashford, who were given the chokehold of the expectations of their entire nation’s support as they took their chances. These promising youngsters, who appeared as the lights for the future of English football had to weigh up at that moment in an opportunity that can be both success as well as disaster on both ends of the scales. But fate would have its moments of cruelty left to be shown. Saka, Sancho, and Rashford were not fortunate enough. First, the keeper saved Saka’s attempt, later Sancho’s was off target and the shot of Rashford ended the game sending them back home. This is how Italy won and England’s dreams were lost. .

In the aftermath of the match, social media platforms were flooded with a wave of racist abuse targeted at the three Black players. Messages filled with hateful language and racial insults flooded their inboxes, painting a stark picture of the deep rooted racism that continues to plague football 1. The outpouring of racism sparked outrage and condemnation from fans, players, and footballing authorities alike. Yet, it served as a reminder of the persistent challenges faced by Black players in the sport. Despite their talent and skill, they continue to be subjected to discrimination and prejudice based exclusively on the color of their skin. Gareth Southgate, the England manager, expressed himself at the racial abuse suffered by Saka, Sancho, and Rashford. He condemned the actions of those responsible and called for unity in the face of adversity. “It’s just not what we stand for,” Southgate said. “We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, and the national team stands for everybody 2.” Southgate also addressed the impact of the racial abuse on the players, acknowledging the psychological toll it can take. “Racist abuse causes trauma,” he stated. “It will impact the targeted players, their teammates, and we know it will also affect their peers 3.” As the footballing world grapples with the fallout from this shameful episode, one thing is clear: the fight against racism in football is far from over. It requires a united and concerted effort from everyone involved in the sport to create a more inclusive and equitable environment where players of all backgrounds can thrive.

It is not difficult to notice the different treatment based on race in history. As a matter of fact, one of the gravest stains in history is the divide left by colonial rule. Navigating the torrential flow of our discourse in the contemporary era, one quickly gets the idea that the perception of yesterday is under the influence of the present day milieu. At the front line of this ‘civil battle’ where the British Empire symbolizes the main discussing point and sparks words against political motivations and debates. When the empire of Great Britain is accounted for, it becomes unquestionable that racism is not the only portion of the history of the empire. However, denying or underestimating the racial aggressiveness of the structures and institutions of that empire should not be a part of the current narrative. This specter of racial violence in former ports from far lands and in the corridors of power in London did not only resemble a star but its reach was quite long 4. The Empire’s vast dominion was preserved through the exploitation and subjugation of local people, who tried to fight back by forming associations of tribe, religion, and people 5. However, it was the unusual UK scale and racial split that became the hallmark of the Empire but also its difference to other empires as a whole. Therefore the marches of the empire from the Caribbeans to India, Africa to Australia were dragged by massive violence and oppression up to the latter days. Enslavement, a pillar of the Atlantic trade system extracted from Africa’s labor power, boosted the empire’s economic growth. Millions of people from the African continent were brought across the ocean in the middle of the ocean, on the other hand, the indigenous populations were massacred and the lands were occupied to hold the position for the colonial expansion. The echoes of this sorrowful episode, resonate throughout and currently overthrow the present-day concepts of racial inequality and injustice 6.

Colonialism was condemned as an act of racist intrusion and injustice, but the native population was still subjected to white European colonists, their essential human rights deliberately stripped away by a legal system with discriminatory inclinations. In settler societies, even indigenous groups that had some kind of government, like the one in India, faced the problem of racism as a powerful ideology which shaped societies and politics, creating harsh inequality between ethnic groups of this country 7. By the late 20th century, the sun had long gone down on the British empire, but with it, racism and exploitation that it had left behind, could never be eliminated, and that is why you can still see its footprints today on the nations and peoples it used to rule. Nevertheless, it is not just the ancient empire of Rome which had impacted into the present day realities of race inequalities and injustice, it was also the other empires which came and went 8.

Florian Olivo,

Alongside the issue of football hooliganism, with its own history of disturbed and violent behavior, there is an intersection with a range of societal elements, of which the area of race is the main one. When hooliganism does not come directly from the racist path, the gang mentality, as well as the territorialism, and hostility both inside and between the gangs, corrode with the racial problems and prejudices over time 9. The aspect of football hooliganism has various aspects and racial practices which can be seen from many sides. To begin with, composition of hooligan gang factions in the society may correlate with the existing societal racial divisions, some of which have particular affiliation to far-right organizations and racist ideologies as their core beliefs 10. For instance, this gang may intend to attack a particular person or some group which dislikes one race, hence doing this makes the hate within the football community more spread. Moreover, the sexualised violence, meaningless redemption and racial tensions are resulting from fandom territory and tribal loyalties are more common between teams who are from nearby cities 11. Geographically, the territory is expressed by the football grounds which frequently represent the communities underlying racial and group differences and this inequality.

In addition to this, the narrative of the outbreak of football hooliganism illustrates not only social issues like racism and xenophobia from recent history but also their inter-dependence. There used to be many fights between opposing supporters, which were characterized by xenophobic feelings and they occurred mostly during the tournaments with international participation representing the countries 12. Various football matches have been affected by racist chants by their fans or chanting and facing down by the opposing players and fans across the world and which have shown the way race prejudices still exist in the football culture. In addition, the news outlets report football hooliganism with the purpose of propagating stereotypes about different races and prejudices. However, reports of ‘extreme sports’ may not directly invoke the color of the player’s skin. The use of language and pictures in these forms of media may make social misconceptions on particular racial groups much stronger. The sensationalism of the media can lead to the stereotyping of ethnic minority cohorts in the realm of football as well as other communities. The matter of the race in football hooliganism has to be fought on many fronts which recognize the dynamics of a social, cultural and historical phenomenon. In their fight against football racism, they should look beyond punitive actions and concentrate on generating a fair, diverse and respectful environment among the fans. The education system and knowledge-sharing programs contribute immensely in cultivating an environment free from prejudice and rooted in positive perceptions among fans’ football subculture.  

The final match of the 2020 European Championship between England and Italy was supposed to highlight the best of soccer competition, but it also exposed a darker side of the sport with incidents of hooliganism and racism. The end of the tournament was meant to be a joyful celebration of skill and fair play, yet it was spoiled by the shameful treatment of three English players Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho who were subjected to despicable racist attacks after missing important penalties during the shootout. This unacceptable behavior not only tainted the event itself but also emphasized the continuing problems of intolerance and prejudice in the world of football. It was a harsh reminder that despite progress made in recent years, discriminatory attitudes and hooliganism still linger within the football community.

Due to the football scene, racial fanaticism, xenophobia and ultra- rights have started appearing in the football stadiums despite these, anti-racist campaigns and the footballing regulatory bodies have responded in a concerted manner. The racially lyricist and bullying incidents in Europe have been a source of concern and provoke the demand for action from the football authorities who must act against it 13. As the arrays of challenges against football racism produce some well-known organizations like Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) as the core entities in the process of elimination of racism in football. Which comprises grass-root groups and activists, FARE has been standing as an organization since 1999, and it aims to question racism and discrimination. With the help of sports clubs, both national and local associations, players unions, and public institutions, the FARE Network has been effective in putting an end to racial discrimination and related forms to homophobia and sexism 14. One of the first remarkable deeds of FARE is the International Action Week against Racism and Xenophobia, held again in October. This initiative is aimed to inspire common understanding of racism in football society and to come together for solving this vital issue. Racism is a big issue in the world of football and the only way to deal with it is for everyone involved in this atmosphere to unite and fight against it 15. It is through FARE’s partnership with movements that leads to the empowerment of local institutions to overcome racism in  football.

FARE’s collaboration with UEFA, Europe’s football governing body, has also been instrumental in driving anti-racism efforts forward. Through initiatives like the FARE 10-Point Plan of Action and financial support for anti-racism projects, UEFA has taken a proactive stance against racism. Furthermore, FIFA’s alliance with FARE underscores the global significance of combating racism in football, leading to the introduction of tough new punishments for racist abuse 16. Despite these efforts, challenges persist in eradicating racism from football. Racial abuse and discrimination continue to occur both on and off the stadium, highlighting the ongoing need for collective action. Additionally a leader in anti-discrimination efforts, Piara Powar, strongly condemned the racist abuse targeting three Black England players after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final. He called for government regulation of social media platforms and criticized British Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his delayed response. Powar highlighted the need for legislation similar to Germany’s Online Safety Bill. The abuse targeted Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho, tarnishing England’s defeat. Powar’s remarks underscore the ongoing battle against racism in football 17. FARE’s future work with UEFA, FIFA, and other European institutions will focus on advancing diversity and equal representation within football, ensuring that migrants and ethnic minorities are included at all levels of the game 18. 

In conclusion, football has had a profound impact on human culture. But despite its popularity, the sport has a dark history marked by racism, hooliganism and the lasting impact of colonialism. Addressing these chronic issues goes beyond simply changing laws or policies; It requires fundamental changes to the core of the game. Football must confront its past mistakes and truly embrace a future of fairness and inclusive respect. To realize this vision it is imperative that the governing bodies, clubs and players in football come together and work as one to eradicate racism completely from all aspects of the game. This does not only require anti-discrimination legislation, but also actively educating and raising awareness promoting a culture of tolerance and inclusion. Leveraging its vast global platform and influence, football has the ability to raise the voices of disadvantaged communities, advocate for equality in a way that no other sport can and even more than that. In addition to banning fans from stadiums and imposing punitive legal consequences, actively investing in community programs targeting the causes of violence to restore football’s reputation, creating a sense of belonging and encouraging positive behavior is crucial for the sport itself. Embracing diversity and tackling challenges will allow football to live up to its potential as a sport that brings people together with a shared passion for the game.



1 Twitter abuse of players

2 Gareth Southgate’s opinion on racist responses from the fans

3 Gareth Southgate the coach of English national team

4 The violence of the British Empire was directed not only against people of color but also against indigenous populations globally, marking a distinctive feature of its expansion.

5 Indigenous resistance to British colonialism was often fragmented by internal divisions, making it easier for the empire to assert its dominance.

6 Slavery, particularly in the Caribbean and the Americas, played a central role in the economic success of the British Empire, at the cost of millions of African lives.

7 Despite the existence of anti-colonial sentiments in Britain, racial discrimination was pervasive across the empire, perpetuating inequalities and injustices.

8 The legacy of the British Empire continues to shape contemporary discussions around race, inequality, and justice, highlighting the need for a deeper understanding of its historical context.

9  Some hooligan gangs may align themselves with far-right organizations, contributing to racial tensions within football culture. 

10 Tribal loyalties and territorial claims among hooligan gangs can exacerbate racial animosities, particularly in derby matches.

11 Incidents of hooliganism have been fueled by xenophobic sentiments, particularly during international matches involving teams from different countries.

12 Media coverage of hooliganism may perpetuate racial stereotypes and biases, contributing to the stigmatization of minority communities within the football community and beyond.

13Incidents of racist chanting and abuse directed at players have sparked outrage and calls for action across Europe.

14 FARE works with clubs, national associations, players unions, and public institutions to combat racism and related forms of discrimination.

15 FARE’s Action Week against Racism and Discrimination aims to raise public awareness and unite stakeholders in addressing racism in football.

16 introduction of tough new punishments for racist abuse in football, including fines, stadium closures, point deductions, and bans for individuals found guilty of racist behavior.

17 The leader of FARE condemned the racial abuse of three english players 

18  FARE’s future work will focus on advancing diversity and equal representation within football, ensuring that migrants and ethnic minorities are included at all levels of the game.

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petarantic (8 avril 2024). Kicking out the prejudices: leading to football’s path to inclusivity. (Hi)Stories. Consulté le 19 juillet 2024 à l’adresse

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