Football is about more than 22 people chasing a ball with varying levels of skill and application. It is about the ritual, heartbreak and occasional glory. And it has the power to bring people together.
But too often, hatred — directed at players from the top of the Premier League to the lowest tiers — is allowed to ferment, particularly on social media.
That is why the Evening Standard is joining English football and other sports in a boycott of social media this weekend. We are calling for real change. In its most simple terms, no player should face racist, misogynistic or homophobic abuse.
The social media companies, who benefit hugely from the engagement and traffic that football brings to their platforms, need to do more.
Posts containing vile abuse staying up for days or even weeks, banned users who reappear within minutes. And action seemingly only taken on comments that go viral. It is simply not good enough.
Removing hate speech quickly is critical. Allowing racist comments encourages copycat posts. Relying on reporting of abuse by players or fans means that the damage inflicted by racism is often already done.
Therefore, platforms must invest more heavily in technological solutions which can automate the process of monitoring comments.
Records must also be kept so any racist abuse can be passed on to authorities for investigation, any so-called fans banned by clubs and potentially face prosecution.
And we call on the Government to bring in a framework that hits the social media companies in their pockets if racism continues to flourish on their platforms.
Asked if he has suffered abuse online, 19-year-old Arsenal winger and England international Bukayo Saka replied: “Yeah, of course. I experienced discrimination online. I think every player does.”
This must change. The weekend’s boycott must not be the end of the matter. We will continue to campaign for a football free from bigotry.
Help ‘invisible’ pupils
The pandemic has not only disrupted the education of millions of young people now back at school. As we report this morning, it has created a new cohort of “invisible” children who have not yet returned to school and could be missing out on education or be at risk.
Estimates suggest that an additional 20,000 children have fallen off the school register since schools returned in the autumn — an increase of 38 per cent on last year. But the true figure is likely to be higher.
At present, parents can simply inform their school that they are removing their child and home-educating them. This is their right and many will do a fine job, but some young people risk falling through the cracks and becoming invisible, particularly now as local authorities are overwhelmed as a result of the pandemic.
Many children are just not turning up at school and face real risks, but are not included in the 20,000 figure. And a register of home-schooled children would not help them. All young people have a right to an education.
We need to see a joined-up approach, as demonstrated by the Troubled Families Programme, to ensure that no child falls through the cracks.