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  1. ITV Report

New season, same problem. How can grassroots football battle the rise of racism?

Manager of Sporting Bengal United said the team has faced 'more than its fair share' of racial abuse on the pitch. Credit: Alam Zaman
  • By ITV News Multimedia Producer Kavi Patel

While another Premier League season has kicked off to much fanfare - the national sport remains blighted by racism.

Manchester City and England midfielder Raheem Sterling was lauded for speaking out after the national team's black players suffered abuse from fans in Montenegro earlier this year - while facing racists among Premier League crowds.

As he and City closed in on another title in the last campaign, ITV News discovered 79% of Asian footballers suffered racist abuse in the amateur game.

Kick it Out recently revealed reports of racism and other forms of discrimination across all levels of football rose by a third last season.

The charity said it remains "rife" after several reports of discrimination involving players across the English Football League last weekend.

So what needs to change at a grassroots level?

ITV News spoke to film-makers trying to alter perceptions, an ex-professional who faced abuse through his career and a pioneering team manager as the new season kicks off on parks across the UK.

The film-makers

Many grassroots teams hope the introduction of sin bins will discourage racism on the pitch. Credit: Alam Zaman

Film producer Joshua Odigie and ex-grassroots footballer Pardeep Chera want to raise awareness about how few British Asian players have been represented in the sport.

The pair's film 'Singh: Number 7' charts the story of Jasdeep Singh, a young British Asian who dreams of becoming a professional footballer.

It comes after Chera's own experiences at football trials, where a coach said to him, "as an Asian footballer you're not quite built for the sport".

He told ITV News: "I've heard other players say they have been called a P*ki and told they smell like curry."

Chera said after hearing the comments he felt "less motivated and it took all the passion out of him" - but is now determined to do something about it.

They hope telling these stories on film will help raise awareness and change the conversation about racism across all levels of football.

Odigie added: "British Asians don't often have the opportunity to play at a higher level so this is why we are making the film."

The former pro

One of the first footballers from a Bangladeshi origin to play professionally in the UK was defender Anwar Uddin, who started out at West Ham.

The 37-year-old, who went on to play for the likes of Bristol Rovers and Telford United, described the type of racial abuse he faced from fans and other teammates as "demoralising".

Anwar Uddin has played for Bristol Rovers and Telford United.

He told ITV News: "I heard beyond inappropriate things said to me, the P word was used far too many times and often even more extreme language which I can't say."

Uddin said his father never watched him play football because of the level of racism at the time.

Anwar Uddin is now the Assistant Manager for Aldershot Football Club. Credit: Anwar Uddin

He said he fears "racism is not going to stop" but is not entirely despondent.

Uddin says it comes down to teaching and awareness.

"It has changed but we were always so far behind in football that more discussions and education needs to be had."

The manager

As a manager of a grassroots team, Sporting Bengal United, Imrul Gazi, said he has seen "more than his fair share" of racism on the pitch.

He said he has seen parents of youth players shout: "You p*kis, what right do you have to be on the pitch," and says he has heard encouragement to give players a "good kicking".

The abuse many players in the team face is something they have gotten used to, Gazi said.

Imrul Gazi said Sporting Bengal United has faced racism from linesmen in grassroots football. Credit: Alam Zaman

"We've heard so many p*ki jokes and terrorist jokes, it's almost expected when we walk on to the pitch before each game," he added.

But Gazi and the team have drawn a line.

They became the first team to form a case against a linesman, who was consequently found guilty of improper conduct aggravated by a person's ethnic origin, colour, race or nationality.

Several players at grassroots team Sporting Bengal United have been faced with racial abuse. Credit: Alam Zaman

So what's the biggest change he wants to see in the grassroots game?

He identifies the need for "more brown and black faces on football boards and in senior positions" as a vital gear towards change.

But what about on the pitch?

Amid the introduction of sin bins to deal with conflicting players, Gazi says the answers for football may lie in other sports.

"Sin bins will certainly go a long way but we need more respect, he said.

"We have a lot to learn from rugby, players, fans and referees often respect one another and yet we don't see that in football across the board which is a shame."