Earlier this month Kick It Out, English football’s inclusion and equality organisations, released its 2019/20 season annual report, which indicated significant and shocking increases in race hate and homophobic abuse and football matches and across social media.
This season the organisation received 117 reports of abuse based on sexual orientation compared to 60 last season – up by an alarming 95% – even despite the season being put on hold for several months due to COVID-19.
Kick It Out’s annual report details discriminatory related abuse received during each season, at both professional and grassroots levels. Following the release of the 2019/20 season report, we spoke to two of the Liverpool City Region’s LGBT+ fan groups, Liverpool FC’s Kop Outs and Everton FC’s Rainbow Toffees fan group.
Both groups indicated concern around the reported increase, yet highlighted the importance of fans challenging homophobic behavior in stadiums and online.
Mike Homfray from Rainbow Toffees said: “Any increase is always a concern but it would be useful if Kick It Out provided more detail as to the nature of the incidents, so that the clubs and the supporters groups know exactly what we need to deal with. This would be particularly useful given the truncated nature of last season.
“I think it’s very important that clubs and supporters work together on this and that the clubs make clear that there is no place for homophobic chanting in stadiums, for example.”
Paul Amann, from Kop Outs said: “While Kick It Out’s report is a useful barometer, there is a different picture between different clubs and in different settings. Some clubs have a clear issue with supporters singing offensive, vile chants to target opposing clubs and fans, which is then replicated online and on social media and these things slip into the statistics.
“It’s clear that the issue of homophobia in football is not going away and there does need to be better recording and reporting of these incidents and where and when they occur.
“When a club supports the LGBT+ community a torrent of abuse follows and these all count as incidents of homophobic abuse. We saw it ourselves this year after Liverpool FC’s very clear support of Kop Outs and Pride in Liverpool in July, by including our banner in the display of supporter banners in The Kop and flying a rainbow flag during the trophy lifting ceremony.
“What we also saw, on the plus side, was the support we received in response that abuse from fellow fan groups such as Spirit of Shankly, Spion Kop and The Anfield Wrap and mainstream supporters who made it very clear that if you express homophobic views and abuse LGBT+ fans – in the stands or on social media – you are not welcome at LFC.
“We take heart from this support and are pleased to see both the club and mainstream fans standing up to this abuse, saying there is no space in football or the LFC fan base for homophobia and no tolerance for abuse.
“Our fellow supporters and supporter groups want to make sure that we can enjoy watching the match safely, they police people’s behaviour and there is nothing more effective than getting a proper schooling by a fellow fan.”
Kick It Out’s report also highlighted a significant shift in how individuals choose to report incidents of discrimination. In the professional game phone reports plummeted by over 70%, while reports via social media leapt by 229%.
However, there was a reduction in the number of complaints made direct to the organisation in terms of abuse on social media, attributed to greater public awareness of mechanisms to report directly to social media companies.
Paul Amann continued: “An increase in reporting can be a positive sign, in that fans feel confident to report abuse and believe that action will be taken. Using mechanisms in place on social media to report accounts that are abusive or sharing homophobic content – something we at Kop Outs have actively undertaken alongside many mainstream LFC fans – does result in thes accounts being suspended.”
Kick It Out’s latest report also highlighted evidence that people were reporting to them only when they have received unsatisfactory responses from initial complaints to social media companies directly.
You can read more about Kick It Out’s 2019/20 season report here.