Havering’s Chair of Young Labour Nicholas West today writes for the Havering Daily.
Last night, England eased past Bulgaria by beating them 6-0 in Sofia. It was a fantastic performance but sadly that’s not what everybody is talking about the morning after. Instead we’re talking about the racist abuse England players had to endure from the Bulgarian fans throughout the match.
The England team were aware this could be the case. Before the game, England captain Harry Kane suggested his team could walk off the pitch if racist abuse happened and UEFA had placed banners promoting their anti racist “Respect” campaign around the ground in an effort to deter this kind of behaviour. Multiple times the game was paused whilst the PA announcer told the fans to stop, which had little effect if any.
Racism is a disgusting plague which is too often punished with small fines (in football terms) or inadequate action. My understanding is the maximum UEFA have ever fined a country’s FA for racism is £80,000 whilst former Arsenal forward Nicklas Bendtner was once fined the same amount for wearing branded underwear during a game. The way fines and punishments are dished out are clearly disproportionate and it’s clear that footballing authorities do not do enough.
But let’s not pretend that this problem only exists in Bulgaria. At home we’ve seen racists repeatedly target black players. Two incidents in the Premier League that spring to mind is that targeting of Raheem Sterling and fans throwing bananas at Pierre Aubameyang – those both happened over the past year alone. Anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out reported that racist abuse in our stands has risen 43% over the past year.
Is this any surprise? We live in a time where we’ve seen a visible rise of far right demonstrations across the country, targeting minority communities but we’ve also seen the most powerful political party in the country (currently) elect a racist as their leader in Boris Johnson who has said black people have “watermelon smiles” and Muslim women look like “letterboxes”.
Theresa May was Home Secretary when “go home” vans were launched, targeting diverse communities and during her tenure as Prime Minister, the Windrush scandal unravelled that uncovered the heartbreak families were going through as the government illegally deported citizens who had a legal right to be here.
It’s currently Black History Month and last night just goes to show why it’s so important we celebrate this month and not to allow racism to divide us. Our own council isn’t doing enough to celebrate this month whereas our neighbours in Barking and Dagenham have put on events and are flying a special flag to celebrate.
The truth is last nights events were disgusting and sadly it all too often occurs. Maybe if we can show enough humility turn the anger and disgust we all felt last night into some self reflection on our own society, maybe then we can start to build a country which can be a shining example to the rest of the world of what a truly equal and harmonious society could be.