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Exclusive: 79% of Asian grassroots football players subjected to racist abuse

The outrage was both justified and widespread when England’s black players were showered with abuse by a group of racist fans in Montenegro.

Mercifully it is a rare experience for this country’s top footballers, either at the hands of fans or other players.

That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, it does, but for the elite it is relatively rare.

If, however you are among the many thousands of black or Asian footballers who play in the grassroots game, shockingly you are likely to suffer this type of abuse on a near weekly basis.

Shamefully it appears it is endemic at this level.

At the turn of the year ITV News targeted hundreds of players from 46 predominantly Asian clubs with a survey.

The aim was to build a detailed picture about the level of racism in this particular section of the grassroots game and how it is handled.

What we uncovered is shocking.

Of the players who responded, 79% had suffered racist abuse by either another player, a coach or spectator during the game.

Some 45% said this had happened in the past 12 months.

79%
suffered racist abuse by either another player, a coach or spectator during the game
45%
experienced racist abuse in the last 12 months

Of those who reported the abuse, they say action was taken in six percent of cases.

No action was taken in about a third of cases, but perhaps most troubling of all is more than half didn’t report a thing; mainly because they said they have no confidence in the authorities to do anything about it.

Blackburn United plays in the East Lancashire league and runs 11 teams, from seniors to under-sevens.

It is a typical community club.

Its chairman has been involved since the club’s inception 30 years ago.

Iqbal Bhai says the atmosphere has changed in the last 18 months or so, where incidents of abuse had been declining, suddenly they are on the rise again.

Efforts are being made to prevent racism in the game after recent incidents. Credit: PA

Bhai said: “I don’t think we were taken very seriously with what we reported [at the beginning], even at high level.

"It was a case of their word against ours.

"It’s resurfaced again.

"At the professional level I think it’s easily highlighted or taken on board more because they’re professionals.

"At grassroots, they don’t take it as serious as they should do because it affects players, especially the young ones."

A new campaign launched this weekend to tackle racism in the sport. Credit: FA

Some are finding the abuse so bad they are considering quitting the game.

Blackburn United reserves captain Danyal Osman said: “To be honest it happens a lot, it’s not just the odd occasion and it gets stamped out, it’s more or less a weekly thing.

"Most of the opposition we come up against tend to use language like that.

“When it’s normal abuse you tend to accept it but when it’s things like that [racism] you don’t feel good about yourself.

"You just don’t feel like playing football.

“Sometimes you report it, nothing happens and you just think what’s they point?”

This weekend the Premier League and Kick it Out launched a joint “No room for Racism” venture.

It received mass coverage and few involved in football will have escaped it.

But does the message filter down through the leagues into the amateur game?

Tajean Hutton, Kick it Out’s Grassroots Manager said: “It’s a campaign, it’s a hashtag, it’s here today and gone tomorrow.

"Where this issue of racism isn’t a passing thing, it affects the livelihood of people.

"So for us to treat it as a campaign, or hashtag or a trending topic is doing a huge disservice to the grassroots sector.”

He is also alarmed by the amount of players not reporting the abuse they receive: “Racism at grassroots level is more or less a weekly occurrence.

"As the stats show, unfortunately, the irony is behind not the amount of people that do report but the amount of people that don’t.

"That is because of a lack of trust and support that they’re receiving.

“It’s depressing but 100% justified.

"There is a huge failure in the system and more or less a breakdown in communication and support from the top down.”

A new campaign aims to make everyone welcome on and off the pitch. Credit: ITV News

An FA spokesperson said: "The FA has funded two extra grassroots officers, based at Kick It Out, who work directly with our County FA network as well as grassroots clubs and community groups, partly to encourage and raise awareness of reporting discrimination channels.

"Additionally, we have a robust system in place to ensure aggravated breaches of discrimination are reported by the County FAs to The FA, who oversee all discrimination cases and take the appropriate steps.

"We strongly condemn all forms of discrimination and encourage all fans and participants who believe that they have been the subject of, or witness to, discriminatory abuse to report it through the appropriate channels: The FA, our County FA network or via our partners at Kick It Out.

"The FA has also been pro-actively working with Asian communities and clubs across the country over the last five years to address their under-representation across the game.

"This is demonstrated through our first Asian Inclusion plan, ‘Bringing Opportunities to Communities’ delivered from 2015-2018 and the next phase of our work will be released soon."