FIFA Declares Support for Social Media Boycott Against Racism
FIFA has publicly declared support for a social media boycott by professional soccer players in England as part of a campaign protesting racist abuse and discrimination in the sport.
The boycott was scheduled to last 24 hours, from 9 a.m. Friday (GMT), April 19, until 9 a.m. Saturday, April 20.
Organized by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the boycott has received widespread support from members of the football community.
The boycott comes after high-profile cases of racist harassment directed toward footballers of color, including Ashley Young of Manchester United, Raheem Sterling of Manchester City and Mohamed Salah of Liverpool.
A prominent voice in the boycott is Danny Rose, a defender for the English national team who is of British nationality and Jamaican heritage. Many of Rose’s experiences have become well-referenced examples of the racist harassment in the sport, targeted primarily against black players.
“Collectively, we are simply not willing to stand by while too little is done by football authorities and social media companies to protect players from this disgusting abuse,” said Rose, referencing the importance of the boycott. Rose was the target of Serbian fans, who made monkey noises at him during a European Champion qualifier in Montenegro in March.
While FIFA received international criticism in 2016 for disbanding the FIFA Task Force Against Racism after stating the body “completely fulfilled its temporary mission,” the organization has recently taken new steps to combat discrimination in the sport.
“We applaud the initiative of the English professional football players,” FIFA responded to the boycott in a statement to the Associated Press. “FIFA is fully engaged in combating racism and any form of discrimination not only in football but in society in general.”
FIFA is now in the process of drafting a three-step procedure meant to limit and deter discriminatory abuse. It is to be adopted by all of the organization’s 211 member associations and six confederations.
The new policy, which will allow a referee to stop play, suspend a game and ultimately abandon the fixture if discriminatory abuse persists, has yet to be adopted or implemented. FIFA has described it, along with other policies currently under development, as “a concrete action with worldwide impact that will launch a powerful campaign against discrimination.” The extent to which the three-step procedure will actually stop racist discrimination in the sport is unknown. Much of the racist abuse directed at and endured by players takes place off the field.
By abstaining from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Premier League players and other members of the football community hope to shine more light on the harm caused by racist messages, comments, and posts.
“Throughout my career I have developed a thick sin against verbal abuse, justifying it as just part of the game, but the time has come for Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to consider regulating their channels, taking responsibility for protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex, or income,” said British-born Chris Smalling, a defender for Manchester United who is of Jamaican descent
As the target of racist insults on Instagram after scoring in an FA Cup semifinal, Watford captain Troy Deeney also publicly spoke out against the spew of online racist harassment directed toward him and his peers.
“My teammates and I have been on the receiving end of well documented abuse from a minority of narrow-minded, ignorant people both on social media and on the pitch,” said Deeney. “Any racism in football is too much, and it’s essential that we fight it wherever and whenever we see it.”
In reference to the boycott, Deeney said, “On Friday we are sending a message to anyone that abuses players—or anyone else—whether from the crowd or online, that we won’t tolerate it within football. The boycott is just one small step, but the players are speaking out with one voice against racism—enough is enough.”
“#Enough” is the hashtag widely circulating social media in support of the boycott, initially adopted by the PFA before quickly spreading in use.
In the case of Manchester United captain Ashley Young, the target of racist harassment on Twitter following the team’s defeat to Barcelona, Twitter quickly responded to the allegations of racist abuse, confirming that many of the posts in question were in violation to the company’s abusive behavior policy. The social media company claimed it used “proprietary-built internal technology to proactively find abusive content.” However, it did not offer any recommendations or solutions to help deter or limit racist behavior on the social media platform.