Racism in the football industry is a challenging issue that attributes to the radicalization of the contemporary football culture (Muller, Zoonen and Roode, 2007). Interventions were initiated to deal with the vice, as evaluated by Horne (1996).  This paper discusses the issue of racism in the football industry.


Racism is a sensitive issue in football. Alegi (2007) defines racism as the practice that disadvantages some individuals based on their colour, culture or origin. A number of theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the issue.


Increased diversity amongst all-white clubs has caused much uproar. The local population has treated the migrants with suspicion and often view them as strangers. It is also worth noting that unlike in America, most European countries have never had widespread civil rights movement and so the interest of minority groups has never been addressed. In addition, potential migrants fear moving out to European countries because racism has been institutionalized and racial abuse of non-whites has become acceptable (Black, Crabbe and Solomos, 1999).

Prejudicial Attitudes

According to King (1999), racism originates from a number of factors, one of which is prejudicial feelings. Often, whites hold prejudicial attitude against minority groups and their feelings are extended to the everyday life. These subconscious attitudes are expressed when the fans become uncontrollable or when they feel aggrieved. Just to illustrate, in most cases, football fans engage in boisterous activities such as drinking and singing. Law enforcement agencies try to use force to diffuse tension and in the process, the fans retaliate by behaving violently.


King (1999) argues that racism can be attributed to the culture of soccer. The soccer culture has four divisions; vernacular, occupational, institutional and the culture of the industry. The vernacular domain refers to the collective behaviours such as chanting amongst fans and soccer club identities. The occupational domain refers to the forms of racism that occur during the game. Occupational form of racism is happens through the mistreatment of players and practices such as stacking black players in particular playing positions. Institutional racism is the racial access to decision making in the club and lack of proper representation. The last domain, the culture of the industry entails lack of proper representation of players from minority groups in popular media as well as racial discourses in sports programs. Besides the soccer culture, Muller, Zoonena and Roode (2007) associate soccer racism with aggressive groups of hooligans in and around the stadium. These groups of hooligans encourage other ordinary fans to engage in racist behaviours. However, there are those who argue that racism is an aspect of the wider soccer culture.


For a long time, Britain has experienced an influx of migrants coming from the Commonwealth countries. Government and non-government agencies have come up with initiatives targeted towards ethnic minorities. Such strategies include the Sorting Equals and the Equality and Diversity Strategy. Although Britain’s policy is multicultural, this does not mean that there are no ethnocentric attitudes. In Britain, racist abuse and violence peaked during 1970s and at the time, soccer was considered a ‘white’ game.  Racism increased tremendously as more black players took positions in the international teams. Some of the black players drafted then include Viv Anderson, Garth Cooks and Cyrille Regis (Long, Hylton, Dart & Welch, 2000). The increase in number of black players coincided with the resurgence of the far right politics and increase in youth unemployment. With the support of the British Movement and the National Front, football supporters were encouraged to engage in racist chants and odd scenarios were experienced throughout the country. The infiltration of racism was intense as evidenced by the support it received from the media.

Racism in football exist to-date, and the most affected are the African and African-American players. Few unforgettable instances demonstrate that racism is very much alive. One instance occurred when Mark Zoro, a player for the Sicilian team Messina, almost walked out of the stadium during a match against Inter-Milan in November 2005. In another instance, Oguchi Onyewu, an American player, was harassed by the players from the opposing team in March 2006. A month later, during a throw-in, Onyewu was harassed with monkey chants and then punched on the face by a fan. In yet a different scenario, Kevin-Prince Boateng was forced to walk out of the pitch following racial chanting from a section of supporters during a match between Rossoneri and fourth tier side Pro Patria. Angered by the racist chants, his teammates joined Boateng in protest by exiting from the field.


Physical violence

According to Walters (2007), in most cases some group of fans could start physical violence against players. Violence can be traced to Ultras, which are groups that are formed by passionate supporters. Ultras are ardent supporters of their teams but in some cases, they could be used to spread racist sentiments. Good examples of racist Ultra groups are Sankt Pauli, Biris Norte, Commando Ultras and Rangers Pisa (McNamee, 2000).

Racist Chants and Fascist Symbols

Racist groupings use chauvinistic flags and banners to express their racist ideology. For instance, the Nazi fans use special codes and fascists symbols such as the swastika. The use of racist symbols was experienced on April 20th 2007 during a league match between FC Senec and Slovan Bratislava. Fans of Slovan Bratislava displayed the face of Adolf Hitler. Similarly, in a match between Italy and Croatia, Croatian fans formed a human swastika in their sector. Soccer fans also use racist chants as experienced in a UEFA match between Zenis St. Petersburg and Olympique Marseille on March 12, 2008.


Racism could be done through many avenues, one of which is through the Internet. According to Balestri (2002), the Internet has become an important avenue through which racist and extremists organizations and groups use to spread hatred, racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic ideas to the wider public. Racist organizations also used the Internet as a medium to recruit members and activists to spread hate messages. Given the exponential development of the Internet, researchers try to evaluate how it can be used to spread racism among football lovers. In a study conducted by Balestri (2002), a number of football supporter sites in Germany, United Kingdom, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, France, Spain and Portugal were evaluated, and the degree of hatred comments were analysed. There were four levels identified; there were sites that had no racist allusions or messages, there were sites that had latent racist or discriminatory allusions while others had recurrent racist allusions. In addition, there were also sites that had strong and well-structured racist ideas.

Balestri (2002) came up with interesting findings. Firstly, in UK, racism is latent because the existing laws punish harshly those who engage in the act. In addition, soccer racism in the UK is less serious compared to other countries because organizations such as the Football Supporter Association have initiated ambitious anti-racist events. This kind of events and programs has suppressed racism among the supporters while promoting a culture based on tolerance in the stadiums. Of the 101 sites that were examined in the UK, 97 did not have any racist comments, while four had latent racism. Just like in United Kingdom, Germany has paid great attention to racism and neo-Nazism by preaching tolerance through social intervention projects and anti-racist campaigns. As a result, most of the football supporters’ sites have low degree of racist content. However, Balestri (2002) found out that Italy, Austria and Spain had sites with recurrent racist comments. Out of the total sites that were evaluated, nine of ten has extremely racist content. Those were found in sites in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany and Spain.



FIFA is charged with the responsibility of formulating rules to guide the operation of national and local clubs. However, for long, the organization has failed to respond to the problem of racism. Even then, the organization has made some attempts. In July 2001, FIFA convened a special conference in Buenos Aires. The meeting was organized to deal with vicious racist incidents experienced in Italian and other European Stadiums. The attendants in this meeting resolved to deal firmly with racism but the elements of the resolution were fully implemented. In another incidence, FIFA organized a meeting in Zurich on March 16to 17 2006, during which the disciplinary code was strengthened. Following this meeting, financial penalties were significantly enhanced. However, the resolutions of the Zurich meetings have not yet been implemented. The efforts of FIFA to stem out racism boosted when the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning racism at soccer matches. The resolution that was passed on March 20, 2006 called on clubs and football associations to impose sanctions on fans and players who commit serious racist offences. At the same time, the resolution called on UEFA to isolate clubs that tolerate racism and fail to punish players and/or fans who commit serious offences.


In 2002, the Union of European Soccer Associations endorsed a plan proposed by FARE. The ten-point plan mandate clubs and the administration to make public address announcements and openly condemn racist chanting at matches. In addition, clubs should ensure season-ticket holders do not make racist chants at matches. The ten-point plan endorsed by FIFA also mandates clubs to implement other measures. Firstly, clubs are mandated to take action against individuals who sell racist literature inside and outside sporting grounds and stadiums. Secondly, clubs and administrators are obligated to take disciplinary action against players who engage in racial abuse and at the same time, they should use the services of stewards and the police to eliminate racism. Thirdly, clubs are obligated to embrace an equal opportunity policy in relation to employment and service provision. Finally, the fight against racism should be a concerted effort between individual cubs, sponsors, local authorities, local businesses and the police.  

In the recent past, UEFA has proposed a number of measures to be introduced during the next season in all European competitions. If the measures are implemented, all payers found guilty of making racist comments will received a minimum of 10-match ban (Jackson, 2013). In addition, if the supporters of a particular club are found guilty of making racist remarks, it will lead to a partial closure of the stadium from which the racist abuse took place, while a second offence will lead to the full closure of the stadium and a minimum fine of £42,500 (Jackson, 2013). The move by the UEFA came at a time when a number of players have been punished for making racist abuses. Clubs too have been punished; a perfect example is the Dynamo Kiev, which was directed to play some of its matches behind closed doors due to racist conduct of its supporters. It is assumed that such dramatic measures will eventually discourage racist conducts from the supporters.


Anti-racism programs

The Professional Footballers Association designed two programs: Show Racism the Read Card and the Kick It program. The Show Racism the Red Card was established in 1996 and uses prominent players to promote tolerance. The program was initially designed for children in England, Scotland and Wales. The program also incorporates a Community Education Project to deliver anti-racist workshops to youth groups. On the other hand, the Kick it Out Program started in 1993 and it uses forums during which specific issues such as homophobia and racism are discussed. The program is present in many European countries including Britain, Spain and Italy. Another famous program is the Stand-up, Speak Up, which was established by Thierry Henry with the help of topflight players. The efforts of these programs in the elimination of racism are supplemented by the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network. The network was established in Vienna, Austria and its objectives are to fight against discrimination in stadiums, on pitch, in administration, in coaching and sport education. Since its inception, the network has held many projects in conjunction with individual clubs and football associations. Beside the anti-racist programs, grass root initiatives against racism have been established. For instance, anti-fascist fan initiatives been launched in countries such as Germany. Fans have also come together to denounce racism through alliances such as the BAFF (Alliance of Active Soccer Fans).

Despite these efforts, fighting racism is a challenging affair because in most instances, the existing regulations only target individual players, coaches and team officials. Fans are not punished severely for their racist chants, which mean they are not deterred from making racial abuses. As Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president noted, “we cannot control what happens in the stands” (Whiteside, 2006). Unfortunately, racist abuses originate from the fans and so there is a need to come up with more dramatic measures to deal with abusive fans.

Another major shortcoming of the anti-racism programs is that they only concentrate in fighting against the overt forms of racism while disregarding the covert forms. In order to address the nuanced forms of racism it is important to appreciate the extent of the problem and include the wider society in the fight against racism. In addition, governing bodies such as FIFA and UEFA has not undertaken dramatic measures; instead these bodies have taken a ‘colour-blind’ approach towards the existence of racism. The fight against racism has become even more challenging with the advent of social networking sites.


Football governing associations such as FA, UEFA and FIFA should use the opportunity accorded by the social media networks to reduce incidences of abuse and racism in football. Maybe these organizations should borrow a leaf from the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has a website specifically dedicated to providing information to victims and allowing people to report race crimes online. In order to deal firmly with racism, there is a need to strictly enforce the existing rules. Such rules include the Football Offences Act of 1991 and the Football Association’s Ground Regulations. In addition, clubs should use a sufficient number of stewards who are highly trained in order to identify racist fans. When there is inadequate number of stewards, clubs should consider using turnstile staff to control the crowds. Other recommendations are as follows:

i)              Football offers extremist groups an opportunity to promote their racist behaviours. In view of this, football associations should discard complacency by choosing strong leaders.

ii)            The football governing bodies should become more involved in anti-racist campaigns and come up with clear structures of reporting racist incidents.

iii)          Clubs and football associations should work closely with the police units. In the UK, the FA association should consider forming a more robust relationship with the UK Policing Football unit.

iv)          A policy and a program of reporting racist and abusive behaviours at the grassroots level should be implemented. This could be achieved by improving the reporting structures at County Football Associations. In addition, football bodies should consider overhauling the overall reporting structures in order to address incidences of racism as soon as they are reported.

v)            Governments in Europe should take a more serious stance in tackling racism in football. To achieve this objective, Europe governments should consider formulating tougher legislations such as The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act of 2012. The Act that came into force on March 1, 2012 discourages racist behaviours inside and outside playing grounds by imposing heavy fines and penalties on offenders.

vi)          Football governing bodies should evaluate the effectiveness of the existing educational programmes.

vii)        The representation of the minority groups in key roles within football is very low. The Black and the minority groups are underrepresented in boards and managerial positions. Having realized this, some independent charities such as Sporting Equals have initiated programs aimed at promoting ethnic diversity and race equality in football. Similarly, the FA has initiated the COACH program to recruit more coaches from ethnic backgrounds. Despite such initiatives, there is still a high disparity between the number of black players and black managers. To deal with this challenge there is a need to ensure appointments are carried out on merit and the representation of black and minority ethnic members is increased. It is assumed that once the representation of the black and minority ethnic members is increased, clubs will attain the impetus to tackle racism.



Alegi, P. (2007) The political economy of mega-stadiums and the underdevelopment of grassroots football in South Africa. Politikon, 34(3), pp. 315-331.

Back, L., Crabbe, T., and Solomos, J. (1999) Beyond the racist/hooligan couplet: Race, social theory and football culture. British Journal of Sociology, 50(3), pp. 419-442.

Balestri, C. (2002) Racism, football and the internet [Online]. Available at:

Horne, J. (1996) Kicking racism out of soccer in England and Scotland. Journal of Sport and Social Issues, 20(1), pp. 45-68.

Jackson, J. (2013). UEFA proposes a minimum 10-game ban for racist abuse. The Guardian [Online]. Available at:

King, A. (1999) Football hooliganism and the practical paradigm. Sociology of Sport Journal, 16(3), pp. 269-273.

Long, J., Hylton, K., Dart, J., and Welch, M. (2000) Part of the game? An examination of racism in grass roots football. London: Kick It Out.

McNamee, M. J. (2002) Hubris, humility and humiliation: vice and virtue in sporting communities. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 29(1), pp. 38-53.

Muller, F., Zoonen, V., and Roode, L. (2007) Accidental racists: experiences and contradictions of racism in local Amsterdam soccer fan culture. Soccer and Society, 8, pp. 335- 350.

Walters, G. (2007) Berlin games: how Hitler stole the Olympic dream. London: John Murray.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s