Most fans in England think racism exists in professional football but just over half think it is a serious problem, a YouGov survey shared with Sky Sports News has revealed.
Polling company YouGov conducted a study of 4,500 football fans carried out over several months across nine European countries.
Fans in England were asked at the end of March whether they thought racism existed in professional football in the country. They were asked the question again in mid-June, days after England players were initially booed by sections of the Wembley crowd before applause and cheering broke out as the team took a knee ahead of their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia.
Some 54 per cent of fans in England said racism in football is a serious issue, compared to 57 per cent back in March. More people in June (36 per cent) said racism existed in football but is not serious, compared with March (34 per cent).
The June poll was taken four weeks before Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted with racist abuse online after England’s Euro 2020 penalty shootout loss to Italy.
In the wider sample, more than nine in 10 fans in England, Wales, and Scotland (all 91 per cent) said racism remains a problem in football. That figure stood at 92 per cent among ethnically diverse football fans in Great Britain, including 79 per cent who said racism is a serious issue affecting the sport.
In both Wales and Scotland, 56 per cent of fans felt racism existed in football and is a serious problem, but fans across Europe were split on the issue. In Portugal, some 76 per cent of fans acknowledged the presence of racism but only 41 per cent said it’s a serious issue, as did 39 per cent of German fans, 38 per cent of Dutch fans, and 37 per cent of Spanish fans.
In France, some 88 per cent of supporters agreed that racism exists in the game. French fans were also the most likely on the continent (64 per cent) to say racism is a serious problem within football.
How has football reacted to the issue of racism?
Following the enormous public outcry over recent European Super League proposals, Leeds striker Patrick Bamford questioned why there was not a similar impassioned uproar from fans over various incidents of racism in the sport.
However, the survey reveals some fans take the direct opposite view to Bamford, and see the reaction from players, staff, and clubs to the issue of racism as underwhelming.
Fans were asked: Do you think the reaction of those within professional football, such as players, staff and club executives as a whole to the issue of racism in football has been an overreaction, underreaction, or about right?
Exactly half (50 per cent) of diverse ethnic fans in Britain felt the response from the sport as a whole has been an under-reaction.
This was split fairly evenly between those that thought it was major (24 per cent) and those that thought it was somewhat of an under-reaction (26 per cent).
Across all of the British supporters surveyed, the picture was slightly different. More than a third of fans in England (37 per cent), Wales and Scotland (both (36 per cent) thought professional football has reacted correctly to the issue of racism within the sport – while another 31 per cent, 30 per cent and 28 per cent respectively said there has been an under-reaction to the issue.
Fans say players taking leading role in fight against racism
Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings said prior to Euro 2020 that players can act as “pioneers” in tackling racism in football, following his own experience of abuse on social media.
However, when asked, many football supporters across Europe felt players were already doing enough in the fight against racism – and that it’s fans themselves who are letting the side down.
In England, exactly 20 per cent thought fans were doing enough to kick racism out of the game, up five per cent from March, but just half the number of ethnically diverse fans in Britain (10 per cent) shared the same view. More than two-thirds of supporters in England (68 per cent) thought they could do more to cut out racism themselves.
Two-thirds of English football fans surveyed in June (66 per cent) felt that the players are doing enough to tackle racism, up from 53 per cent in March. More than half of fans in Wales (58 per cent), Spain (55 per cent), and the Netherlands (54 per cent) shared this sentiment, as did 49 per cent of Portuguese fans, 48 per cent of fans in Italy, and 47 per cent of Scottish fans.
Is the FA doing enough?
Last month only 36 per cent of English supporters said the Football Association is doing enough to tackle racism in professional football, with 47 per cent saying it was not doing enough.
Responding to the YouGov survey, the FA told Sky Sports News one of their key objectives over the next three years is to “deliver a game free from discriminatory behaviour”.
They say their three-year equality, diversity and inclusion plan, In Pursuit of Progress, is focusing on initiatives to promote equality and increase the diversity of those playing, officiating, coaching, leading and governing English football.
The FA also points out it remains proactive in tackling online discriminatory abuse, having led English football’s social media boycott from April 30 to May 3 this year.
The governing body wants to continue the lobbying of government on the Online Safety Bill, and is urging social media companies to act faster to tackle hate on their platforms.
Fans think clubs & associations must do better
When it comes to football clubs, fans in the Netherlands think their clubs are most effective in tackling racial abuse (50 per cent). In Britain, around two-fifths of fans feel clubs are doing enough, including 43 per cent of English and Welsh fans, and 39 per cent of Scots.
However, only a quarter of ethnically diverse supporters (27 per cent) are impressed by club efforts to deal with racism, among the least likely to think so, alongside three in 10 French football fans (30 per cent).
Opinions of international football associations, such as FIFA and UEFA, are also particularly low among fans in Britain (an average of 21 per cent across England, Scotland and Wales) when compared to the continent (an average of 38 per cent across the European nations surveyed).
This includes some two in five fans from Spain (45 per cent), Italy (43 per cent) and Portugal (43 per cent) who think international football groups are doing enough to tackle racism.
Are sanctions for racism harsh enough?
Many fans across Europe also think punishments dished out following incidents of racism are too lenient.
Over half of ethnically diverse fans in Britain think domestic clubs (57 per cent), national teams (59 per cent) and national football associations (59 per cent) are not punished harshly enough by leading football authorities following racist behaviour by their fans or players
Opinion is similar across England (48 per cent), Scotland (47 per cent) and Wales (47 per cent), versus some 30 per cent, 28 per cent and 20 per cent respectively that think current punishments levied against domestic clubs are about right. Just six per cent of fans in both England and Scotland, and four per cent of supporters in Wales think they are punished too harshly.
In terms of punishments against both national football teams and national football associations, fans in England (57 per cent and 61 per cent respectively), Scotland (49 per cent and 52 per cent), and Wales (54 per cent and 56 per cent) tend to think punishments are not harsh enough.
Elsewhere in Europe, fans are closely split, or lean towards thinking that punishments against these groups are about right following incidents of racism.
German fans are split 38 per cent to 39 per cent between thinking that national football teams are not punished harshly enough, and those that think that punishments are about right for example. Meanwhile, some 46 per cent of Spanish fans think current punishments against national teams are about right, compared to 39 per cent who think they are not harsh enough.
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