Online racists to be banned from football matches, vows PM

·4-min read
People gather to view the messages of support at a mural of England player Marcus Rashford in Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)
People gather to view the messages of support at a mural of England player Marcus Rashford in Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA) (PA Wire)

Boris Johnson has promised to ban football fans from matches if they are guilty of sending racist abuse to players online.

The government is to extend the football banning regime to cover online racism after England players suffered abuse following the team’s defeat in the Euro 2020 final.

The prime minister said he would ensure the order is changed to crack down on racism and that those responsible for the sort of abuse aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka would be barred from games.

However he faced accusations from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer of trying to “stoke a culture war” and of giving a “green light” to racism after he repeatedly refused to condemn fans who booed players for taking the knee.

Labour has been calling for a change in legislation following the torrent of racial abuse.

There were signs also of concerns among Tory MPs of unease at the government’s stance after Home Secretary Priti Patel dismissed the action of the England side at the start of matches as “gesture politics”.

On Tuesday, hundreds of anti-racist protesters took the knee at Rashford’s mural in Withington which was defaced with racist graffiti.

England captain Harry Kane is also among high profile figures to condemn fans who targeted the black players with racist comments.

Former minister Steve Baker said the subsequent outpouring of support for the players who were subjected to abuse following he penalty shoot-out with Italy should serve as a “wake-up” for the Conservative Party.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

In the Commons, Mr Johnson praised the way the England side had shown solidarity with those players who were subjected to abuse saying the team “represent the very best of our country”.

“I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night,” he said.

“So what we’re doing is today is taking practical steps to ensure that the football banning order regime is changed, so that if you are guilty of racist abuse online of footballers, then you will not be going to the match.

“No ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.”

He also defended Ms Patel, after Sir Keir highlighted the comments of the England defender Tyrone Mings who accused the Home Secretary of stoking the fires of racism.

“The Home Secretary has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind he (Sir Keir) can never imagine,” the prime minister said.

The Labour leader retorted that the government had been trying to “stoke a culture war” only to realise that they had been caught on the wrong side of the argument.

“Far from giving racism the red card, the prime minister gave it the green light,” he said.

 (PA Wire)
(PA Wire)

In a reference to the prime minister’s appearance at Wembley, he added: “I’ll tell you the worst kind of gesture politics, putting on an England shirt over a shirt and tie whilst not condemning those booing is the worst kind of gesture.”

Earlier, Mr Baker warned the Conservatives needed to realise “just how powerful our words are” when addressing issues such as racism and taking the knee.

“We have to get alongside those players who are taking the knee and understand they are not saying defund the police, they are not anti-capitalist.

“What they are doing is saying ‘We suffer racism’,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Downing Street said they would seek to introduce the changes to the football banning regime through the upcoming Online Safety Bill following a “swift” 12-week consultation period.

“We will want to introduce it as quickly as possible working with the FA, working with social media companies and others,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

Banning orders are issued when someone is convicted of a “relevant offence” linked to a match, including crimes such as disorderly behaviour, making threats against people or property, and possession of weapons or alcohol.

The list also covers crimes set out under the Football (Offences) Act 1991, which include racist chanting, pitch invasion and throwing missiles.

The duration of a banning order, which is used to bar individuals from attending matches and in some cases can require them to surrender their passports ahead of overseas fixtures, can range from a minimum of three years up to a maximum of 10 years.

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