Football has, for some time now, been more vocal than ever about combatting the scourge of racism. Experts have spoken for years about how more has to be done at the top of the game to try and change the way that things are managed. Players are often targeted for harsh abuse at football, but many who hail from non-white backgrounds feel they are increasingly more targeted. With football no longer allowing fans at games until the COVID-19 pandemic is under control, then, there might be no surprise to see that abusers have taken to social media to hand out the abuse instead.

This has been widely condemned by people in and around the game. However, the recent storm of racist abuse directed at Chelsea full-back Reece James has forced the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, to step forward and speak out in support of his player and the wider community. Speaking in a statement about the incident, Abramovich said: “I am appalled by the racist abuse targeted at Reece on social media. We cannot allow this to continue unchecked.

“I know that several of our players have been the targets of hate and discrimination on social media.

“It shocks me that only days after we commemorated Holocaust Memorial Day, we as a society do not seem to have learned the lessons of our shared past and the consequences that hate and discrimination can have.

“I have directed the board to further increase the club’s efforts in this area and I will personally direct more funds towards this important work. We will be setting out our actions as a club in the coming days.”

What can football do to combat racism?

It is hard to say, really. There is much more that can be done in terms of making a clear stand against fans in the stadium – ban them for life. The same goes for any player, no matter the profile or the earning power. If you are caught making sick discriminatory comments based on race or skin colour, you should find yourself excluded from football. However, in terms of fans giving out abuse in social media?

It is hard for a club to correct that – they are businesses, just like anyone else. The power they have to make a genuine change to social media etiquette is almost nil. As such, there is a sense of powerlessness about what teams and players can do in a bid to fight back against racist thinking and ideology.

For now, then, the issue is unlikely to get any better. The problem stems from both the anonymous nature of social media (which has many positives, as well as some cons) but also from the fact that it is such a major talking point in society. As society as a whole tries to turn the screw on racism, some fans look to fight back and act out in the most reprehensive ways – there is, sadly, little clubs can do other than highlight the problem and hope social media companies take more command of the situation.

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