Norfolk and Suffolk racism low after call to make racial abuse a sackable offence in professional football
The chief of a trade union for professional footballers wants racist abuse to be a sackable offence for English players after a spate of incidents in the Premier League this season. But is racism in football a problem across Norfolk and Suffolk? Ben Woods reports.
The Premier League is often hailed as a 'strong advert' for English football.
But its reputation has come under scrutiny this season following racial incidents involving top-name players.
It has led to the Professional Footballers' Association chief Gordon Taylor to propose new measures to make racist abuse on the field a sackable offence.
If approved by the professional football negotiating and consultative committee, the plan would make changes to players contracts in the Premier League and the Football League so the regulations could be introduced as early as next season.
'I don't see a problem with that being introduced,' Mr Taylor said. 'It just highlights the point in the standard players' contract.
'It would say that racist abuse, if found guilty, will be classed as gross misconduct and a reason to terminate a contract.'
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His call for tighter regulations around racism comes just days after he gave evidence at an inquiry into racism in football by the culture, media and sport select-committee – which includes Suffolk Coastal MP Therese Coffey as a member.
Ms Coffey has welcomed Mr Taylor's plans but has called for him to take the proposals further by terminating a player's membership of the PFA if found guilty of racial misconduct.
But at the grassroots level, the outlook across Norfolk and Suffolk appears bright.
Both counties have reported low levels of racism in recent years, and a greater effort has been made to promote equality within the game.
In Norfolk, reports of racist behaviour between players have amounted to five cases in the last three seasons.
And in Suffolk, there has only been a single case in both 2009 and 2010 of a player being found guilty of using racist language.
But Shaun Turner, chief executive of Norfolk County Football Association, has questioned whether the Norfolk statistics tell the whole story.
He believes they could be linked to the county's low levels of ethnic diversity compared to areas of London and Birmingham.
But he is pleased by the small number of reported incidents and feels they prove racism in lower-league football is not an issue in Norfolk.
He said: 'Given the statistics that we have got, I would have to say it is not a problem in Norfolk.
'There are isolated incidents that will happen throughout society and football gets drawn into that. But this season we have had no proven cases.
'We investigate every accusation to see if there is enough substance for a charge to be raised and then speak to the referee for his report. We then follow FA regulations.
'Obviously there are individuals in society whose views may be old- fashioned around race, but what we have found is those views are not participating in our game.'
In Suffolk, new measures are being introduced to promote equality and open up the game to everyone.
The Suffolk Football Association was awarded the foundation level of the Equality Standard in April, which aims to boost equality standards within the organisation in order to make football accessible to all.
Phil Knight, chief executive of the Suffolk FA, believes these measures are still important to pursue even if levels of racism at a county level are low.
He said: 'Racism from the terraces used to be huge, you only have to look at the banana incident involving John Barnes in the 1980s.
'But a lot of work has been done to try and eradicate racism – now we need to carry on that work.
'There are educational processes in place to make sure we lead from the front in regards to racism, and making sure football is a safe enviroment to be in.
'We are not as ethnically diverse as London, but we need to make people aware that the game is for them as well.'
He added: 'Our foundation award is about opening up the game– we are already working towards the next level of equality standard.
'Despite the low figures, we are working as hard as we can to welcome groups into the sport.'
The media spotlight was cast on racism in football in October when a race row erupted between Liverpool striker Luis Suarez and black Manchester United defender Patrice Evra.
Since then, John Terry has denied accusations of racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand, while Norwich City striker James Vaughan became the victim of a racial slur on social media site Twitter.
Speaking after the culture, media and sport select-committee session on May 15, Ms Coffey said: 'The Suarez case shows that racism has not been completely eradicated from the game, but it is nowhere near where it had previously been.
'The inquiry is about finding out why some players will accept racism and others won't.
'I would always encourage people to report abuse and not treat it as 'banter'.'
In response to Mr Taylor's plans, she added: 'It is a reasonable thing to do on the grounds of misconduct, but what I would like him to do to take it further is that if anyone in the PFA is done then they should have their membership terminated as well.'
Mr Taylor also wants to improve education around the issue of racism.
'Rather than just concentrate on the young apprentices as part of their curriculum, we want to introduce it to all senior players,' he said.
The culture, media and sport select-committee inquiry into racism in football will publish its finding in the summer.