Soccer activist says political rhetoric stirs racist chants


So much still frustrates the man at the forefront of eradicating discrimination from English soccer.

While teams are more diverse, there remains a distinct lack of black and ethnic minority coaches and executives in positions of power.

The atmosphere at matches is not as toxic as 25 years ago, when Herman Ouseley laid the foundations for the Kick It Out organization, but abuse targeting players is increasingly moving from the stands to the anonymity of the internet.

And as a member of the House of Lords, the 73-year-old Ouseley is particularly wary of how outbursts from politicians can embolden fans still out to cause offense.

"People bring their prejudices into football," Ouseley told The Associated Press, "because those prejudices are in society."

The Kick It Out chairman is concerned supporters can "take a lead" from inflammatory statements by U.S. President Donald Trump and that outbursts by British politicians are "warping people's minds." Particularly alarming to Ouseley is the fallout from former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson making disparaging comparisons about women who wear face-covering veils.

"It won't surprise me to see in the next few weeks ... in grounds people are insulting Muslims and calling them bank robbers and post boxes," Ouseley said, referencing Johnson's comments. "That's how people pick up on things. It forms itself into a chant and then suddenly it's part of football."

Ouseley thought far-right groups had left the game but is now troubled by a revival.

"They are trying to infiltrate and get back into football in their own covert ways," Ouseley said. "To peddle their hate."

The Football Lads Alliance has gained attention with anti-Muslim rhetoric, emerging in a volatile atmosphere after Britain's 2016 vote to leave the European Union, a campaign stirred by concerns about immigration.

"What football then has to do is ... (ensure) the chaos that exists now in politics and may well for some time doesn't actually infect football in the way that it's looking as though some people would like it to happen," Ouseley said.

Soccer's powerful place in British society can also be harnessed to foster harmonious relations. The last three Professional Footballers' Association players of the year were all Muslim: Riyad Mahrez, N'Golo Kante and Mohamed Salah.

"It shows that football can move the dial in a way that is influential," Ouseley said, "and push the politics back and out of football."

BASKET CASE

Born in Guyana, Ouseley moved to London at the age of 11 and dedicated his professional life to making Britain a more inclusive society, challenging public institutions plagued by racism. A fan of London club Millwall, whose fans have a reputation for violence, Ouseley saw the need first-hand to turn his attentions to soccer in 1993.

"Twenty-five years ago football was a basket case with violence outside the grounds, inside the grounds," Ouseley said. "On the pitch, black players were being abused and they were keeping their heads down because the only way to stay on the team, not have an adverse effect on your performance and also to keep your own dignity, ... was just dealing with those problems in their own way."

Players feel more emboldened to call out racism, while stiffer sanctions are imposed — in England at least — by criminal and soccer authorities. Part of the Premier League's global appeal, making it the richest soccer competition, is the multicultural and multiracial nature of lineups.

"Historically owners of clubs felt the black players weren't good enough to play football," Ouseley said. "That's now been proven (they can)."

But the Premier League opens with only two black managers among the 20, Chris Hughton at Brighton and Nuno Espirito Santo at Wolverhampton Wanderers. That stems from the lack of equality in boardrooms and the hiring process by clubs.

"We've got a situation now where some people feel that black coaches are not good enough," Ouseley said. "They have to stop the process of just talking to friends and their contacts and being in a cozy network."

DISCRIMINATION ON RISE

Kick It Out reports cataloging incidents of discrimination from the grassroots to the professional game highlight the ongoing and evolving nature of the problem. In the first half of last season alone, the incidents of discriminatory abuse rose 60 percent to 282. There were 109 incidents of harassment on social media alone.

Kick It Out is unsettled by Twitter allowing offensive content as long as it doesn't threaten violence, asserting that by allowing "bigotry on their platform" the company is undermining efforts to make soccer an inclusive environment.

"We are trying to get all different mediums to recognize the responsibility they have for contributing to an environment ... free from harassment," Ouseley said. "We've got meetings. It's got to be tackled. It's got to be tackled at the government level."

It highlights the ever-evolving nature of Ouseley's role leading Kick It Out, and the need for such an organization, which is marking its 25th anniversary.

All while Ouseley himself still has to cope with facing prejudice.

"I've got a resilience that can deal with the prejudice and stereotypes and having experienced it virtually all my life and found ways to deal with it," Ouseley said. "Very often you know something's happening that is not the right thing. You make a determination is this is not the right place to challenge it. Sometimes you make a decision, well it's not worth it, and other times you might want to take it on. It exists."

___

Rob Harris is at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Premier League: www.apnews.com/tag/PremierLeague


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Sports

Golden’s Nuggets: Resurgent Tiger made Furyk’s Ryder Cup decision a snap
Golden’s Nuggets: Resurgent Tiger made Furyk’s Ryder Cup decision a snap

Note to Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Don’t overthink this. Tiger Woods is back. Put him on the 2018 team. Tiger’s driver took most of the weekend off, but the rest of his game was humming along as if he climbed into a grey DeLorean and set the Flux Capacitor to the year 2000. He didn’t break the 10-year drought of winning majors,...
A second U.S. Amateur in hand, Kristen Gillman now must make a choice
A second U.S. Amateur in hand, Kristen Gillman now must make a choice

Laura Gillman wasn’t going to miss this one. The mother of Kristen Gillman flew into Nashville, Tenn. on Saturday night to grab a front row seat to watch her daughter play in the finals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur at the Golf Club of Tennessee, just a few miles west of Nashville. With a Lake Travis High School logo on her sleeve and an...
Triplets of the Big 12: Oklahoma State is looking to replace two offensive heavyweights
Triplets of the Big 12: Oklahoma State is looking to replace two offensive heavyweights

We’re taking a tour of the top quarterback, running back and wide receiver of every Big 12 team. Today’s triplets: Oklahoma State. QB: Taylor Cornelius (2017 — 6 of 10 for 148 yards, including a 56-yarder, but made it into only 5 games; Texas history — Has never faced the Longhorns.) RB: Justice...
The Dotted Line: Local wide receivers Elijah Higgins, Jaylen Ellis provide recruiting updates
The Dotted Line: Local wide receivers Elijah Higgins, Jaylen Ellis provide recruiting updates

Elijah Higgins prefers mystery. The four-star wide receiver released his top seven schools on July 10 and has remained relatively quiet about his recruiting status over the past month. The 6-3, 214-pound prospect from Austin Bowie ranked No. 23 on the recently updated Fabulous 55. He’s considered the 16 th-best...
This forgotten video game helped pave the way for Madden NFL
This forgotten video game helped pave the way for Madden NFL

The release of Madden NFL marks the 30th anniversary of the most popular sports video game of all time. While it has generated more than $4 billion in revenue and inspired three decades' worth of gamers and football fans, some of Madden's humble roots can be traced to a start-up company working out of a house in Bethesda, Maryland, and an early football...
More Stories