Labour urges fresh powers to ban online racists from football matches

·4-min read

Courts must be given new powers to ban anyone convicted of online racist abuse from football matches, Labour has urged, amid widespread outrage over attacks on England players.

The opposition demanded that racial hatred on the internet is treated in the same way as on the terraces by extending Football Banning Orders to cover online offences as well.

The call came in the wake of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka being subjected to racist hate on social media after they were unable to score in the penalty shootout of the Euro 2020 final.

Boris Johnson held talks about online abuse with firms including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in Number 10 on Tuesday, amid criticism of social media giants for failing to deal with racist hatred directed at players.

England centre-back Harry Maguire said there was a “negative side” to social media as he joined those calling for firms to clamp down on perpetrators using their platforms as a place for racist hate.

The Three Lions and Manchester United defender told the Sun: “Something needs to be done. The companies need to verify every account.

“It is too easy to troll and abuse. To be racist is just too easy to be done and get away with.”

Labour is urging the Government to use the upcoming Online Safety Bill to extend powers under Football Banning Orders, arguing that current plans fail to tackle the problem.

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens said: “The racists who have been abusing England players online should be banned from football grounds. They do not deserve to be anywhere near a game of football.

“We need urgent action to tackle online abuse but the reality is that the Government’s Online Safety Bill will not stop racist abuse online.

“Labour would ensure that online abuse is treated in the same way as racism directed at players from the terraces is, so that these racists are brought to justice and banned from grounds.”

An online petition calling for racists to get life bans from all football matches in England has received already more than 970,000 signatures since its launch after Sunday’s match.

Football Banning Orders allow magistrates to prohibit individuals from attending all regulated matches in the UK if they are convicted of relevant offences.

Euro 2020
The abuse has not been confined to the internet, after a mural of Rashford was defaced (Danny Lawson/PA)

While they may also be required to surrender their passport before overseas matches and tournaments, the legislation does not cover online incidents.

The orders can last between three and 10 years and are believed to be largely handed out for violent and public disorder offences.

Official statistics show that of 1,089 football related arrests in the 2019/20 season in England and Wales, 35 were for racist and indecent chanting while 657 were for disorder. A total number of 1,621 banning orders were issued.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport said that the Government was “introducing tough new laws” to force social media companies to clamp down on racism.

The spokeswoman added: “Our world-leading Online Safety Bill will also stop repeat offenders from opening new accounts.

“It will include powers to make senior managers criminally liable and we will not hesitate to bring these powers into force if tech firms do not step up their efforts.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister would “reiterate the urgent need for action” in his meeting with the tech giants, but also had to issue a defence of Mr Johnson and Priti Patel over their earlier responses to the racist abuse.

England footballer Tyrone Mings accused the Home Secretary of having managed to “stoke the fire” in the tournament by criticising the team for taking the knee against racism as “gesture politics”.

Last month, Ms Patel declined to condemn fans who booed players as they took the knee in protest against racial injustice at the beginning of matches.

“I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well,” she told GB News.

And on whether England fans were right to boo the national team, she said: “That’s a choice for them, quite frankly.”

Ms Patel declined to comment on Mings’ tweet, but Conservative former defence minister Johnny Mercer said the footballer was “completely right”.

Tory MP and former minister Steve Baker has also said that Conservatives need to change their attitudes towards people taking the knee, according to the Guardian.

The newspaper reported that he had written in a message to MPs on the Conservatives Against Racism, For Equality group: “Much as we can’t be associated with calls to defund the police, we urgently need to challenge our own attitude to people taking a knee.”

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has been granted an urgent question to Ms Patel to ask for a Commons statement about online racist abuse on Wednesday.

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