Matt Abbott: Social media boycott is a start but football faces uneasy truths
Premier League clubs and governing bodies are currently on a three-day social media boycott, writes Matt Abbott.
The aim of this boycott is to take a stand against racism. And I’m genuinely torn between thinking it’s an impressive move and thinking it’s utterly pointless.
The grim reality is that racism is hardly a new issue in British football. Monkey noises, racist chants, and banana skins being thrown onto pitches were all commonplace as recently as the ‘80s. And as recently as 2003, England fans were banned from visiting Turkey because of racist chanting.
But in the modern era, racism has mutated in the way that it’s manifested itself on social media. This means that it’s harder to police, it’s 24/7, and it’s direct into the players’ phones. At any given moment they could receive a text message from a loved one or a vicious attack from a stranger.
The Premier League clubs will blame Twitter and Facebook, who in turn will pay lip-service. Boardrooms – predominantly comprising white men – will be satisfied that enough action has been taken. And the Black and Asian players in our game will continue to receive abuse.
How much is expected to have changed by the time the boycott ends on Tuesday morning, I really don’t know.
Taking the knee in the wake of George Floyd’s murder was a powerful show of global solidarity. At least on the pitch, anyway.
That it continues to happen behind closed doors leaves a lot of uncomfortable questions unanswered.
And indeed, when a small number of fans were allowed in before Lockdown 2.0, the gesture was booed by some. Throughout summer, taking the knee was a fiercely divisive issue that dominated the sport. But at least it felt like the relevant conversations were starting to be had.
A bank holiday social media boycott – less than a month after pubs and bars reopened – doesn’t quite feel the same.
The uneasy truth is that British football needs to confront its own institutional bias. The dismal lack of diversity in boardrooms and dugouts speaks volumes. And don’t give me the argument on meritocracy whilst ever Steve Bruce keeps earning contracts.
It’s a complex and extremely sensitive issue that will take years to sort. And football can’t be held solely accountable for eradicating racism in Britain.
But as with everything, you need to start somewhere. And if this weekend’s social media boycott is the first step on a genuinely progressive journey, maybe we can stamp out racism once and for all.
You’ll never stop people from being nasty on social media. But if the powers that be genuinely address racism from the top, then maybe one day, the racists won’t feel quite as drawn to the game.