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Sensemaker: Football and racism

Sensemaker: Football and racism

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Six people including the suspected gunman died in Britain’s worst mass shooting since 2010, in Plymouth. 
  • Britney Spears’ father agreed to step down as her conservator after a prolonged legal battle over his alleged abuse of the pop star. 
  • Wildfires killed 69 people in Algeria, at least 11 people were killed in floods in Turkey, and two septuagenarians were found burnt to death after fires and record heat in Italy.

Football and racism

A month ago England narrowly lost the Euro 2020 final and some of the players faced a torrent of racist online abuse. Fans, campaigning groups and the government put much of the blame on social media platforms. Is it that simple, or does a wider discussion need to be had within football on how to stop the abuse?

What Twitter says. The bulk of the abuse was sent via Twitter, which this week presented its own research into what happened after the final and how it responded. 

  • The platform’s automated tools identified and removed 1,622 tweets during the final and in the 24 hours that followed. 
  • By 14 July, 1,961 tweets had been removed.
  • 99 per cent of the accounts suspended were not anonymous.
  • Contrary to the impression given by some early reporting, the UK was – by far – the largest country of origin for the abusive Tweets removed on the night of the final and in the days that followed. 

Unanswered questions. The numbers suggest action is being taken, but campaigners say it has been too little, too late. A few days after the final Troy Townsend, head of player engagement at football’s anti-racist organisation Kick It Out, told Tortoise Twitter was “dragging its heels” in the conversation about online abuse and had to be pressured to “take ownership” of the problem. Not much seems to have changed since then. Kick It Out’s chair, Sanjay Bhandari, told us yesterday he welcomed Twitter’s data transparency but said it left more questions than answers – “because unless you can understand the profiles of the offenders, the people who are doing this, how can you have proper granular solutions to the problem?” 

What Twitter’s analysis does show is that racism coming from overseas and sent by anonymous bot accounts represents a small proportion of the total and is no excuse for lack of action. 

Do they have the technology? Apparently so. Kick it Out says the tech needed to take down abuse already exists in the automated learning tech platforms use to take down copyrighted content. Bhandari said he feels the real reason social media companies like Twitter are so slow to take down abusive content is that “there is no money in tackling racism so they are miles behind on the investment curve”. Twitter admits it “can do better” and acknowledges a responsibility to make sure its service is safe.

What the government says. Kick it Out is not alone in believing tech firms could do more. After the Euro 2020 final Boris Johnson told MPs: “Unless [social media firms] get hate and racism off their platforms they will face fines amounting to 10 per cent of their global revenues. We all know that they have the technology to do it.” The UK government’s forthcoming Online Harms Bill will, in theory, enable more effective policing of online abuse. Ofcom, the communications regulator, would enforce the law and impose the fines. 

What the fans say. Since the final, over a million people have signed a petition calling on the Football Association to ban racists for life from all football matches in England. One of the petition’s founders, Shaista Aziz of the #TheThreeHijabis anti-racism campaign, told Sensemaker: “We are not interested in figures about the amount of abuse coming from abroad or the UK, we want to know what’s going to be done about it.” Aziz has had conversations with the FA and hopes to meet Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, to present the petition and consult on the Online Harms Bill. 

Off the pitch. Racist abuse doesn’t just happen online. It has long been a feature in the grounds themselves, and in wider UK society. But football does have a unique place in British culture. Aziz believes we won’t see wider change unless football sets an example: “We can’t create anti-racism in this country if we don’t have enough anti-racism in football.”

Kick off. Will the abuse continue as the Premier League kicks off again tonight? It’s likely. What systems exist to guard against it just aren’t effective enough yet. A sliver of positivity: Twitter found that the word “proud” was used more often on the day following the Euro 2020 final than on any other day this year. “That’s what we should be celebrating,” Bhandari says. “An incredible young team with a great manager that gets us, understands us and who is redefining patriotism for us.”

Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Taliban in, America out
The US temporarily deployed 3,000 troops to Kabul to support the evacuation of all but a core team of diplomats from Afghanistan. Despite the move to evacuate their staff, secretary of state Antony Blinken and defense secretary Lloyd Austin told the Afghan president Ashraf Ghani the US  “remains invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan”. Since yesterday, Taliban forces have taken Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and a historic stronghold for the group. They now control about a third of the country’s provincial capitals. The UK’s defence minister told Sky News that as Afghanistan spirals into civil war “al Qaeda will probably come back”.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

NHS pressure
More than 5.45 million people are currently waiting for NHS hospital treatment – the highest number since records began. In response, the UK health secretary Sajid Javid told the BBC he would look at “what more we need to do” to support the service but added that “waiting lists will rise”. The NHS also reported that ambulances across England answered more than a million calls in July. Staycationers have put particular stress on the southwest, with 999 calls reported every two minutes. Army personnel were deployed this week to support overstretched paramedics in the region.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Pipeline protest
As Biden pushed this week for OPEC+ countries to increase their oil production in an effort to bring down prices, the Guardian reports that more than 600 people have been arrested or received citations for protesting against construction of the Line 3 tar sands pipeline in the US. The project is run by Enbridge, a Canadian oil company, but has the Biden administration’s backing and will bring nearly a million barrels of oil extracted from tar sands per day from Alberta to Wisconsin. Indigeneous groups and environmentalists have mobilised to stop the pipeline which they say will damage fragile ecosystems in Minnesota and violates US treaty rights of Native American groups. Police, paid for by Enbridge, have reportedly used rubber bullets and pepper spray against the protestors. The executive director of Honor the Earth, who lives on Minnesota’s White Earth Reservation, called the project a “climate crime”. The protests may all be in vain; the pipeline is nearly finished.

New things technology, science, engineering

China’s five-year plan
China released its five-year (2021-2025) plan to strengthen regulatory control over strategic sectors. It said new rules will be introduced covering areas such as technology, artificial intelligence and monopolies. The announcement follows a series of crackdowns by Beijing on technology and education industries. Alibaba was fined £2 billion in April after an antitrust investigation and Chinese regulators had several apps from the ride-hailing company Didi Global Inc’s removed from the App Store in July. Shares in many Chinese companies listed in the US, Hong Kong and mainland China have fallen sharply this year because of investors’ concerns that the crackdowns are part of a broad campaign by Xi Jinping to rein in Chinese entrepreneurs.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Restaurant stalemate
A legal battle between the Wolseley restaurant in London and its landlords may seem like nothing more than a battle within the capital’s elite. But as the FT reports, it sheds light on a deeper post-pandemic issue on British high streets. The celeb-laden restaurant is facing a lawsuit from its landlords (STJ investments), who are demanding Wolseley’s operators (Corbin and King) pay up £1 million in rent they didn’t pay during lockdown. And they aren’t the only renters facing problems with their landlord. According to Remit Consulting, unpaid commercial debt from renters currently stands at £6.4 billion. Tenants are protected from eviction until March 2022, but landlords say the money missing from their balance sheets means a lack of future investment in struggling high streets.

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Phoebe Davis

Additional reporting by Sophia Sun.

Photographs by Getty Images