Nick Benson

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Chaplain for Sport urges Government to intervene in sport’s racism issue

The Westminster Chaplain for Sport has urged the Government to intervene in efforts to eradicate the “repellent scourge” of racism from sport.

He urged the public to contact their MPs to make sure that they are actively stepping up attempts to do so.

His call comes after Phil Neville called on the “football community” to boycott social media platforms until they do more to tackle the discriminatory abuse directed at players after a group of footballers became victims of vile, racist abuse online.

“Like knife crime in our cities, racism in sport – especially football – is a hard to eradicate, repellent scourge,” Mgr Vladimir Felzmann told The Catholic Universe.

He backed the former Manchester United Class of ’92 star’s call, saying: “Boycotting social media platforms is well worth a try”.

“Naming and shaming the primitive tribal-minds that hate anyone not exactly like ‘us’ might – like drink-driving – make that behaviour socially unacceptable,” he added.

Mgr Felzmann, who is also the CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, pointed out that The Unity of Faiths Foundation (TUFF) programmes are “chipping away at the problem”.

However, he has also urged the public to ensure that their MPs are actively involved in helping to resolve the issue and have not been distracted by other matters.

“The decent people in our society need to keep up pressure on their MPs, even if these are distracted by Brexit,” he said.

“Secretaries of Education and Sport, together with the Home Office, need to set up a standing COBRA-type committee to co-ordinate the strategies of charities, local communities, the police and clubs.

“Together we not only can, but we will, make a difference,” he concluded.

Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, Reading’s Yakou Meite and Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba have all received vile, racist abuse online this month after failing to score penalties.

Pogba’s treatment prompted a rapid response from his club, which issued a strong statement to condemn the abuse and urge social media companies ‘to take action’.

The French star’s teammates Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard have both tweeted their support, too, while United defender Harry Maguire has suggested that people should only be able to open social media accounts if they provide proof of identity.

England Women’s manager Neville, who played nearly 400 games for United, agrees with Maguire but believes companies like Twitter will only act if they are forced to do so.

Speaking to reporters at St George’s Park, the Lionesses boss said the most recent outbreak of overt racism on social media shows the problem is “not going away” despite the positive work being done by anti-discrimination groups such as Kick It Out and the football authorities.

“I think we probably have to take drastic measures now as a football community – I’ve had it with my players on social media, the Premier League stars and the Championship have had it,” said Neville.

“I just wonder whether as a football community we come off social media. Because Twitter won’t do anything about it, Instagram won’t do anything about it – they send you an email reply saying they’ll investigate but nothing happens.

“I’ve lost total faith in whoever runs these social media departments, so let’s send a powerful message: come off social media (for) six months. Let’s see the effect it has on these social media companies.”

This bank holiday weekend’s Premier League fixtures:

Friday 23rd August

Aston Villa v Everton – 8:00pm

Saturday 24th August

Norwich City v Chelsea – 12:30pm
Brighton & Hove Albion v Southampton – 3:00pm
Manchester United v Crystal Palace – 3:00pm
Sheffield United v Leicester City – 3:00pm
Watford v West Ham United – 3:00pm
Liverpool v Arsenal – 5:30pm

Sunday 25th August

AFC Bournemouth v Manchester City – 2:00pm
Tottenham Hotspur v Newcastle United – 4:30pm
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Burnley – 4:30pm

Picture: Kick It Out painted signage on a stadium wall at Stamford Bridge, London. (Steven Paston/PA).

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