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  1. ITV Report

PFA and football figures rally round Raheem Sterling over racism claims

Raheem Sterling was subject to abuse during Manchester City's game against Chelsea on Saturday. Credit: PA

The Professional Footballers' Association says it stands "shoulder to shoulder" with Raheem Sterling and believes he is singled out for negative media coverage.

The Manchester City forward was subject to alleged racist abuse during Saturday's Premier League game at Chelsea.

Television footage showed a group of home supporters screaming abuse - alleged to be racist in nature - at Sterling as he retrieved the ball from behind the goal during Saturday's match.

Chelsea said it has now suspended four people from attending matches pending further investigations, adding it is "fully supporting the police investigation".

The Metropolitan Police are investigating the incident, and Chelsea said it would "fully support" any criminal prosecutions.

Sterling, 24, responded to the incident on social media by accusing the British newspapers of helping to "fuel racism" by their portrayal of young, black footballers.

He shared two headlines from the same newspaper, comparing the way the white and black subjects of the stories were portrayed.

The men in the Chelsea stand could be seen screaming at the City winger as he collected the ball. Credit: BT Sport

Meanwhile a number of footballing figures have been weighing in on the issue.

Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Sterling's former club Liverpool, commended the player for his "brilliant" reaction to the abuse.

"I thought his reaction was just brilliant. You saw his face. He gave the right response, not to react for these people."

He added offenders should be punished, but not talked about as they "do not deserve that we talk about them".

Former England footballer John Barnes said ethnic minorities would not have been surprised by the abuse suffered by Sterling as racism remains "prevalent" in British society.

The 55-year-old said prejudice and discrimination extend far beyond football.

Praising Sterling for his mature response to the incident, Barnes added: "Until the average black person is treated with respect and given equal opportunities to the average white person, nothing will change."

The PFA said it has been in contact with Sterling to offer support and praised the restraint he showed at Stamford Bridge.

Raheem has made a stand by speaking out and we stand shoulder to shoulder with him against the discrimination of which he speaks.

We all have a part to play in tackling racism and discrimination and certain sectors of the media must be held to account.

We have been aware for a few months of the targeting Raheem faces in the press, it is evident that he is often singled out and treated more harshly than his colleagues.

As such, these stories are fuelling racism within the game, as reports of racist abuse continue to rise.

We stand with him in calling for the press to consider the coverage of all footballers carefully, and to end their imbalanced coverage aimed at young, black players.

– Simone Pound, PFA's head of equality and diversity

The alleged racist abuse came a week after Arsenal's Gabon international Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown at him during the north London derby with Tottenham.

Troy Townsend, who works for the Kick It Out campaign, and is the father of Crystal Palace winger Andros Townsend, told ITV News sports editor Steve Scott he does not trust the media to look at itself, after Sterling's comments.

"He's asked them to look at themselves, I think they've looked at themselves very quickly, and have dismissed it, and will crack on doing the same as they've done before," he said.

One prominent media figure, Piers Morgan, said he disagrees with the assessment that negative newspaper stories about Raheem Sterling and other black players are racially motivated.

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The Good Morning Britain host took to Twitter to argue Raheem Sterling has brought much of the coverage on himself with his own actions, claiming he hasn't been treated any differently by the press to how high profile players such as David Beckham or Paul Gascoigne would have been.