'It's way too easy' - Leeds United's Tyler Roberts speaks out as football unites for weekend action
Tyler Roberts hasn’t suffered racist abuse online, yet.
The last word of that sentence is made galling by the depressing probability of such abuse coming his way.
God forbid the 22-year-old should ever unlock his phone to read such filth but so many of his peers have endured that exact experience in the past year.
Kemar Roofe, Son Heung-Min, Romaine Sawyers, Callum Robinson, Anthony Martial, James Tavernier, Alexandre Jankewitz, Marcus Rashford, Fred, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Willian, Glen Kamara, Wilfried Zaha, Naby Keita, Reece James, Yan Dhanda - the list goes on and on and on.
After Leeds’ left-back Gjanni Alioski was the subject of an attempted headbutt from Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé the pair were both sent abusive messages, including death threats, homophobic slurs and racist insults.
“Recently at Wales two of my close mates there had online racial abuse,” said Roberts, referencing international team-mates Rabbi Matondo and Ben Cabango.
The 20-year-olds received abusive messages on Instagram after Wales’ 1-0 friendly win over Mexico last month.
Matondo, on loan at Stoke City from Schalke, Tweeted about the abuse, criticising a social media platform: “And it continues... another week of Instagram doing absolutely nothing about racial abuse.
“My Instagram will get taken down if I post any clips from my games though... priorities.”
Facebook owns Instagram and, in a statement, said it had permanently deleted the accounts from which the messages were sent. Roberts, whose personal experience of racist abuse occurred face to face as a youth international, says bringing the incidents involving his Wales team-mates to light was key.
“We just tried to make it known that it had happened and that, obviously, UEFA and the social media platforms needed to act on it and do something,” he said.
“The clubs are doing so much more to bring these kind of things out into the open.”
The Premier League has set up an online abuse reporting system that was launched last year to support players, managers and their family members who receive this sort of serious, discriminatory online abuse. Cases are reviewed, reported to the relevant social media firm, investigated and legal action is taken when appropriate.
The action Roberts wants to see is from social media companies, who have the power to ensure anyone using their platforms can be identified.
“I don’t understand why the social media platforms have not created a way so that when you sign up with an account it has to be verified so you’re accountable for every single comment that you make,” he said. “The racist abuse is by a fake account and, okay, that gets deleted, but then they can just make another one. It’s just way too easy.”
Leeds United Ladies captain Bridie Hannon joined forces with Roberts for an educational video as part of the Premier League’s No Room for Racism campaign.
“If you were in the street and you were racially abusing someone, or the police heard you, you wouldn’t get away with it,” she said.
“Because it’s on social media you can almost do what you want.”
She says the victims of discrimination can pay a price.
“These people don’t realise the impact it has on people - some are strong and can just bat it off. For others it can lead them down a depression route.”
English football has taken a knee before the start of fixtures this season as a show of solidarity with those fighting for equality and this weekend Leeds United will join a boycott of social media to highlight discrimination and abuse. The FA, Premier League, EFL, FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, PFA, LMA, PGMOL, Kick It Out, Women in Football and the FSA will all unite for the boycott, 3pm on Friday to 11.59pm on Monday. Leeds United Supporters Trust and Marching Out Together have confirmed they will join the blackout in solidarity and many supporters are expected to follow suit.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts will fall silent across the game but, after that, Roberts will keep standing up and speaking up in the fight against racism. He hopes others will join him.
“I think it’s very important to stand up for people who are suffering from this because, if you don’t and you let it go, it’s going to keep happening,” he said.
“I think the more we all bring these things to light the more action will be taken on these kind of situations.”