Kick it Out logo Football in Britain has come a long way since the dark days of widespread football hooliganism in the 1980s. But no one should be complacent about racism and discrimination - as it still exists in every level of the game. Several initiatives have been successful at changing attitudes and stamping out widespread racism in football, but none more so than the ‘Kick It Out’ campaign. But are we still making progress when it comes to providing equal opportunities and tackling the scourge of racism in the game?

Getting to the bottom of racism in football in the 21st century

Kick It Out recently surveyed hundreds of coaches, players, parents and referees throughout Britain to get their opinions on discrimination in the game - and some of the results were a little surprising. A huge 63 percent of those questioned said leagues don’t do enough to stamp out discrimination at grassroots level. And well over a third of the referees questioned said that they don’t receive enough support from footballing authorities after submitting reports of discrimination to their local grassroots league. But it wasn’t all bad news, as 84 percent of respondents said they would challenge discriminatory behaviour in football if they encountered it. Sadly, many people have witnessed racism and discrimination at grassroots level, including half of the respondents in Kick It Out’s survey. And a shocking 22 percent said they had been the victim of discrimination in the past. These results should not be allowed to overshadow what the Kick It Out campaign has achieved so far. But away from the cameras of the Premier League and the Football League, the spectre of discrimination and racism is far more prevalent than many people realise.

Racism bubbling under the surface of the professional game

The professional game is not without its own problems, however. A 2015 investigation into the problem revealed that racism in professional football is still a widespread problem. More than 350 racist incidents at football matches were reported in 2012 alone, with perennial title contenders Chelsea being the worst offenders. Incredibly, an Asian footballer in the Premier League was sent a threatening letter contained highly racist and offensive language just last year. While acts like this are exceptionally rare these days, it shows that the fight against racism is far from being won. Anyone who wants to find evidence of racism in professional football only needs to search for it on the internet. Monkey sounds were being chanted at a game between Middlesbrough and Blackburn recently. And who can forget Chelsea fans’ disgusting racial abuse of a man on the Paris Metro?

Racism still pervades every level of football

It is a depressing fact that racism is still widespread in youth football throughout England. Just last year, Surrey Police revealed that a referee had been racially abused during a children’s match. And Essex police reported that a player had refused to shake hands with a black opposition player before racially abusing him. Despite these shocking statistics and anecdotes, there is a feeling in the mainstream media that widespread racism in football is a relic of the 1980s. Perhaps it is this complacency that is responsible for the shocking rise in racist incidents in recent years. Lord Herman Ouseley is the Chair of the Kick It Out campaign, and he accepts that the fight against racism is nowhere near being won. “The professional game has improved the way it deals with discrimination reports and hate crime, but there is still much to progress at grassroots level. “Those playing the game at grassroots level need more support and Kick It Out intends to lead in this area. “Football cannot ignore increasing prejudice in society and there’s a duty to make it a safer place for future generations.”

Getting real people involved in the fight against discrimination is crucial

Almost half those surveyed said that the Kick It Out campaign had made no discernible impact on grassroots football in England. And 86 percent said that the initiative would be more successful if more coaches, players and parents were directly involved. Make no mistake; racism and discrimination at all levels of football in the UK are alive and well. While me may not see or hear this on the news or during live TV broadcasts, it is always there. The Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card campaigns have undoubtedly changed attitudes towards discrimination in recent years, but they are not without their limitations. Real players, referees and coaches need to be setting the agendas of national anti-racism campaigns if more progress is going to be made. The people who live and breathe football on a daily basis are best placed to change attitudes and report illegal discrimination wherever it lurks. They are also the ones who need to be at the forefront of new initiatives aimed at changing attitudes in the game. Racism and discrimination go against the very nature of football. The beautiful game is all about teamwork, respect and fair play. If anything, football should be blazing a trail when it comes to stamping out discrimination in society. Instead, it continues to be at the heart of the problem. Racism IS still a problem in British football. And while things are improving, they’re not improving fast enough.