Home Office figures show that there was more than 150 football- related racist incidents reported to police last season, a rise of more than 50% on the year before and more than double the number from three seasons ago.
The figures, revealed by Home Office minister Susan Williams, show three years of increases in reported incidents across England and Wales, with a sharp rise from 98 to 152 between the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Previously there had been a decline in reported incidents of racially charged non-violent abuse, such as chanting or verbal intimidation, from 99 during the 2013-14 season, to 78 in 2014-15, 68 in 2015-16 and 70 in 2016-17.
Reports of this nature are usually made by the clubs, where they have been alerted to incidents, or collected by police themselves. Since January 2018 the UK Football Policing Unit, the FA and Kick It Out have met every week to discuss incidents from the previous week and allocate a lead agency to take forward positive action, such as police investigations or educational initiatives.
Officials from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said racism “has no place in football or society” and cited this working arrangement as a contributing factor in the increase of reported hate crime incidents. However, Kick It Out pointed to the normalisation of divisive language in society as it described the figures as unsurprising.
A spokesperson for Kick It Out said: “Racism is both a football and societal issue, and it is clear that we are living in a climate of rising hatred and tribalism across the world. In this country, the situation is no different and the language of division has become normalised within our political debate – and our politicians must take the lead in countering that.
“In that context, it is no surprise to see a rise in reported incidents in English football. But it is also important to note that racism in the game has now become a far more mainstream topic – which we believe is encouraging supporters to take action and report abuse they see or hear.”
Labour’s shadow sports minister Catherine West said: “The evidence from the Home Office is clear, with such an astonishing rise in football-related racist incidents since the 15-16 season, coinciding with the EU referendum and the normalisation of bigotry that it ushered in.
“The FA and Kick it Out have been doing good work to stamp out racism from the sport, but clearly we all need to do more to ensure that the beautiful game is free from all forms of bigotry.”
The issue of divisive language was raised last month by Gary Neville after the Manchester derby where a man was arrested for alleged racial abuse. Neville blamed politicians, including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, for creating a climate where racism is more acceptable.
“There are things being said within a political domain that four or five years ago were just not acceptable,” he said. “What is said by politicians is followed up by the media, some of whom give it legitimacy.”
The government said it was committed to working closely with the professional football governing bodies and was monitoring how the FA, Premier League and English Football League progress with plans to tackle racism set out at the start of this season.