Former England and Manchester United defender Gary Neville believes it is “ridiculous” that football has not made significant inroads into tackling racism.
A small number of fans booed players taking the knee in protest at racial injustice ahead of the national team’s Euro 2020 warm-up games against Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough, while Marcus Rashford received a torrent of abuse on social media after United’s Europa League final defeat almost a fortnight ago.
They are the latest in a long list of incidents which have plagued football and footballers and Neville does not believe enough effort has been made by those in the game to help eradicate it.
Neville, now a respected television pundit, believes the issue should fall under the remit of an independent regulator, which is being advocated for the game in the wake of the failed European Super League breakaway involving top-flight clubs.
“A regulator must have teeth to be able to unlock major situations,” he told the ‘Keeping the Game Beautiful’ webinar hosted by campaigning think-tank Onward.
“For me, football should tackle societal issues and should start acting properly. We should deal with issues like racism, homophobia, LGBTQ, women in football.
“It is ridiculous I am still seeing statements from football stakeholders about ‘We don’t tolerate racism’ while not doing a damn thing about it.
“Every time there is a racist offence I say we need education but the game doesn’t seem to want to educate or place great consequence on the offenders.
“There should be compulsory education programmes for all Premier League fans, administrators, people who work in football clubs, players.
“We all have to be educated and we all have to buy into it.”
Former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch is heading up a fan-led review which will look at how clubs are run, a process which was speeded up after the ESL furore.
Neville said governance in football is another key issue which needs addressing and questioned why independent regulation faced so much opposition.
“This is not a personal thing against any particular organisation but it is dysfunctional and I feel there is no way sport, which means so much to so many in this country, should not be exposed to the types of behaviours, attitudes and self-interested greed we have seen in the last 12 months with Project Big Picture and the European Super League,” he added.
“People who are most concerned about independent regulation tend to be connected to Premier League clubs.
“I don’t see the regulator having to invade football. The Premier League know they have to pass money down, improve the fit and proper person test, deal with societal issues.
“The regulator just needs to poke them. I don’t see this as being anything spectacular.
“This risk a regulator could come in and do a worse job on racism or distribution of funds – they are not going to ask the Premier League to give less money to football so how can they mess this up?
“Anyone who fears independent regulation must have something to hide.”
Tom Greatrex, vice-chairman, Football Supporters Association National Council, said offering fans representation at executive level – as has been announced by the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham last month – needed more exploration.
“We have to be very wary of simplistic answers like ‘Put a fan on the board’. Putting someone on the board is not a panacea in itself,” he said.
“If the framework isn’t right, it’s a tokenistic approach. It has to be more fundamental than that.
“Where clubs engage their supporters, they tend to avoid making bad decisions.
“I don’t see how clubs lose from being more open and transparent about the challenges they face.”
Shadow Sports Minister Alison McGovern agreed.
“Those supporters are going to have a huge role in championing the interests of fans on boards and will be an early warning system for when things go wrong,” she said.
“How do we make sure that support is there for them and make sure fans have a participatory role and are not there standing on the outside screaming when things go wrong?”
Anti-discrimination group Kick It Out on Tuesday announced the launch of a new players’ board, to be co-chaired by its head of player engagement Troy Townsend and former Professional Footballers’ Association chair Clarke Carlisle, a Kick It Out ambassador.
They will work with a group of 11 current and former players from the men’s and women’s games.