Framing Racism in Football: The Case of Top European Football Clubs’ Websites
12078174 Master’s Thesis
Graduate School of Communication Master’s programme Communication Science
Christel van Eck Word Count: 8000
February 4, 2022
Racism within football has been a reoccurring issue throughout the various football
competitions that exist. Competitions such as the Champions and Europa League, exclusive competitions for those who perform best, have not been immune. However, along with the opportunity to be crowned the best in Europe, the latter competitions grant clubs more exposure and hence the greater probability to influence football spectators’ views on racism.
Thereby this work analyzed the ways in which the top 64 European clubs participating in the Champions or Europa Leagues frame racism in football via their websites. Expanding on Entman’s theoretical framework this work specifically analyzed ways in which football clubs’ websites frame the problem, cause, moral judgement, and solution to racism within football. Through a qualitative analysis, this work investigated 247 articles and found football clubs most often framed opposing frames such as the acknowledgement and denial of racism as the problem, social media as a cause of racism, condemnation as moral judgement of racism, and collaboration as a solution to racism.
Keywords: racism, football, racism in football, framing, frames, websites, Champions League, Europa League
Framing Racism in Football: The Case of Top European Football Clubs’ Websites
In November of 2019, Georginio Wijnaldum celebrated his goal for The Netherlands by holding out his arm alongside that of his teammate, Frenkie de Jong, to demonstrate that football is a game for all skin tones. The celebration came after Ahmad Mendes Moreira of the Dutch football club Excelsior was racially abused during a second division Eredivisie game earlier that month. However, despite Wijnaldum’s anti-racism protest, racism persists within football as it has for many years (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013; Penfold & Cleland, 2021). There are countless examples of players being harassed on and off the field long before 2019. For example, in 2004 Shaun Wright-Phillips and Ashley Coley were harassed with ‘monkey chants’, in 2005 and 2006 Samuel Eto’o suffered the same abuse, and in 2007 anti-Muslim insults were hurled at Novi Pazar (Kennedy, 2013). More recently, during the 2020 Euro, Hungarian fans were fined for their racist abuse towards English players.
Similarly, at least one fan was jailed after English fans racially abused English players during that same tournament. Previous academic research not only acknowledges the existence of racism within football (Llopis-Goig, 2009; Cleland, 2013; Doidge, 2013), but also provides suggestions to end the pervasion of it (Bradbury, 2013; Kilvington & Price, 2017; Penfold &
Cleland, 2021). However, there is still a lack of research regarding the manner in which top European football clubs communicate regarding the problem of racism in football.
Research about the communication of top European football clubs regarding racism is important as fans perceive football as a “deeply embedded community activity that expresses and reinforces cultural identities” (Mellor, 2008 p. 313). As fans remain more loyal to their clubs compared to others, such as football federations, the role of football clubs when communicating messages is vital (Doidge, 2014). Therefore, this work aims to contribute to academic literature by elucidating the ways in which football clubs frame thoughts regarding social issues (see e.g. Rodriguez, 2016; Lobillo Mora, Ginesta & de San Eugenio Vela,
2021), such as racism, via their websites. Specifically, it underlines what is currently done and presents potential gaps that could be filled. The framing of these issues is of particular salience as issue framing can shape public understanding of these issues and any solutions presented (Nelson & Kinder, 1996). This is especially relevant in football where through a feeling of belonging identity is passed on from clubs to supporters (Gomez-Bantel, 2015).
Therefore, if clubs adhere an anti-racism stance it will consequently be passed on to supporters. As such, the current research provides insights into how racism is, if at all, currently framed via top football clubs’ websites. Websites allow corporations, in this case football clubs, to communicate who they are and who they want to be viewed as.
Additionally, they allow the clubs to develop an image consumers can identify with. This is of particular importance as the clubs’ websites are used as a source of information for fans (Blumrodt & Huang-Horowitz, 2017).
Thereby, this study explored how top European football clubs frame the issue of racism via their websites. Previous work has employed a framing approach to analyze racism in sports. For example, McElroy (2014), studied the framing of Jeremy Lin as he went from undrafted to basketball sensation in a sport where he was largely a minority. Her findings revealed that Lin was often framed as an underdog, a reminder of racism, agent of change, and an antidote to Blackness. Other research compared ways in which Black and White college quarterbacks were described and found that while Black quarterbacks’ description emphasized their physical skill and lack of mental preparation and Whites were described as less physically skilled but more mentally prepared (Mercurio & Filak, 2010). Finally, a study by Roksvold (2012), regarding the coverage of football in Norway in a hundred-year period, found that frames evolved from goal scoring and celebration in the 1919s, progressed to framing the match hero in 1949, to ultimately scapegoats as frames by 2009. Similarly, by turning to frames, this work guided by Entman’s four main types of frames, defined racism as
a problem, identified the causes of the problem, moral judgements, and solutions listed in articles from the teams’ websites.
To carry out this research, the websites of 64 European football clubs were analyzed through an interpretative content analysis. European football clubs were analyzed due to their participation in the international UEFA Champions and Europa League tournaments. This participation consequently results in more airtime, and thus more user views, allowing clubs an increased influence on fans’ and general publics’ views on racism in comparison to smaller clubs. Thereby, stemming from the previous discussion, the following research question and sub-questions are presented:
RQ1: How do top European football clubs frame racism on their websites?
RQ1a: What do top European football clubs identify as the problem of racism?
RQ1b: What do top European football clubs identify as the causes of racism?
RQ1c: What moral judgements do top European football clubs make about racism?
RQ1d: What solutions do top European football clubs put forward to address racism?
Despite the lack of consensus on a concrete definition for framing (Cacciatore et al., 2015) it is the most popular communication theory used in academia (Bryant & Miron, 2004).
Expanding throughout multiple disciplines framing has been seen from psychology to
sociology. Kahneman and Tversky are considered the pioneers of framing in psychology and demonstrated that human choice is contingent on how information is contextualized
(Kahneman & Tversky, 1984). From a sociological perspective Goffman, “described framing as a method by which individuals apply interpretive schemas to both classify and interpret the
information that they encounter in their day-to-day lives” (Cacciatore et al., 2015, p. 10).
Reese (2001) has further interpreted frames as “organizing principles that are socially shared and persistent over time, that work symbolically to meaningfully structure the social world”.
However, today, a commonly used definition is that of Entman (1993), he defines to frame as
“to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a
communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described”. In addition to defining framing Entman has also studied the framing of social issues such as racism. Entman and Rojecki (2000) studied how media, specifically television, portray African Americans. They found that while racism was not blatantly promoted it was other subtle nuances that hindered racial harmony. For example, while Blacks were found to feature in commercials these were often for less-expensive products. Additionally, in comparison to White colleagues they rarely engaged in interactions such as speaking or touching one another. Moreover, Entman also developed the theoretical framework used by this work as a basis for a new racism in football related framework. Thereby this work will:
(a) define how the problem racism is framed in top European football clubs’ websites;
(b) diagnose how the cause of racism is framed;
(b) identify moral judgments being made regarding racism in football, and;
(c) identify what solutions are suggested to eradicate racism.
The following section discusses previous research on framing racism in football along the four dimensions of the theoretical framework of the current research.
Previous research on framing racism in football
Entman’s framework been used to study numerous topics such as issues within football. For example, using Entman’s theoretical framework, scholars detailed how Loris Karius’
concussion during the 2018 Champion’s League final was framed (White et al., 2020). They described the problem as a lack of understanding concussions, and the cause of this problem included the players attitudes and those of others in the sport. Further, moral judgements related to the lack of education regarding concussions were found and only few solutions for this, such as laptop review or the update of rules such as increased assessment time for possible concussions, were provided. Despite different thoughts and opinions shared by different entities such as media and players themselves, by using Entman’s theoretical framework, these scholars’ work was able to clearly portray the problem, cause, moral judgements, and solutions for the way Karius’ concussion was treated. Similarly, a clearer understanding of racism within football could be an important factor when it comes to eradicating racism from football as scholars have previously noted the lack of it has resulted in unsuccessful responses to racism (Spaaij & Viñas, 2005). Thereby, the current research aims to accurately reflect the ways in which clubs’ frame racism in football so as to contribute to the understanding of it.
Although scholarship has long acknowledged the problem of racism within football there is a lack of scholarship regarding the manner in which racism in football is framed on football clubs’ communication platforms. However, other more general scholarship has provided noteworthy results. For example, scholars have elaborated on the problems
constituting racism in football. For instance, Llopis-Goig (2013) explains that in Spain racist abuse has been communicated via multiple avenues such as symbols (e.g. flags, stickers, posters) or through the use of insults (e.g. monkey noises, banana throwing) during in person interactions for example at stadiums. For their part Cleland and Cashmore (2013) describe the expansion of racism into the online sphere. They explain that through the anonymity that social media provides racist perceptions, such as islamophobia, have been easily conveyed.
Additionally, through a survey, they found that 83 percent of their participants stated that
racism has never left football. Paradoxically, Doidge (2016) describes the frequent dismissal of racism with ‘common sense’ arguments such as the unlikelihood of racism existing in a game filled with numerous nationalities and ethnicities. Burdsey (2014) provides a clear example of this as he details Liverpool’s dismissal of, their then player, Luis Suarez’s racist abuse by arguing he too is of mixed race. Furthermore, research has identified multiple groups of people who have been found guilty of racial abuse. Aside from the commonly thought of groups such as fans or players scholars such as Doidge (2016) recount racist texts exchanged by Cardiff City managers. Additional work also acknowledges racism perpetuated by the likes of coaches, referees, media, and football institutional sectors (Müller, van
Zoonen, & de Roode, 2007; Principe & van Ours, 2021). Thus, overall research finds that racism is expressed in multitudinous ways, that it is not always acknowledged by all, and that that numerous groups of people have been found to be perpetrators.
Additionally, previous research has also identified numerous causes of racism. For example, Mauro (2013) explains how the media seemingly unprompted referred to Mario Balotelli as “King of the Jungle”. In a different example also including Balotelli, and again unprompted, the brother of AC Milan’s president communicated to those attending a political meeting he was off to meet the “nigger of the family” (Doidge, 2013). Other examples
include endless cycles of violence between rival fans groups that are composed of different ethnic groups (Arnold & Veth, 2018), confrontation regarding fouls on the pitch (Gardiner, 2014), and other instances of what could be seen as subtle racism such as the lack of diversity in managerial or in corporate positions (Doidge, 2016). Overall causes of racism have been identified as structural issues in corporate football, team rivalries, and seemingly random instances as causes of racism.
Additionally, scholars often identify two moral judgements made by the football world. First, scholars believe that racism is not solely a problem within football. Llopis-Goig
(2013, p. 263), for example, states, “Racism is a phenomenon that currently exists in European societies”. Second, football clubs and governing authorities have been known to condemn racism (Kassimeris, 2011; Hassan & McCue, 2012). For example, clubs have used banners to express their condemnation of racism and players have supported the “Say no to racism!” slogan (Spaaij & Viñas, 2005). Thus, it appears that both racism as a societal issue and condemnation of racism are football clubs’ common moral judgments.
Moreover, scholarship has detailed numerous solutions for the problem of racism within football. For example, initiatives such as Football Against Racism in Europe, Kick It Out, Leeds Fans United against Racism and Fascism, and club led incentives (for example by Hamburger SV) have been implemented by either football clubs themselves, their respective national football associations, NGOs, or their fans (Dixon, Lowes, & Gibbons, 2014;
Thomas, 2011; Reiche, 2013; Wachter & Fanizadeh, 2008). Another solution mentioned by scholars is that of education. For example, Borussia Dortmund partner with their fans to educate them regarding the impact of anti-social behavior (Doidge, 2016), and Sheffield United partners with a youth work organization that educates youth on the impact of racism and its impact on society (Doidge, 2014). Additionally, scholars identified raising awareness as a solution. Examples of awareness discussed by Spaaij and Viñas (2005) included player appearances in anti-racism commercials, banners condemning racism, and collaborations with sponsors such as Nike. They further identified the unification of football players, clubs, referees, amongst others who came together to ultimately implement measures such as halting a match in the case of racist abuse and fines. Finally, Lentin and Humphry (2016) discuss Kick It Out’s app dedicated to providing real-time opportunity to report racist incidents before, during, and after football games. This solution is seen as a self-policing option for supporters and emphasizes their role in eradicating racism in football. To
summarize, anti-racism initiatives, education, raising awareness, unification, and reporting, were some of the solutions scholars identified to be used to reduce racism.
Overall, while previous research focused superficially on the analytical dimensions of Entman’s framework to analyse racism in football, a comprehensive analysis of football clubs’ websites along the lines of Entman’s framework is currently lacking. Therefore, this research will apply the framework by conducting an interpretative content analysis of top European football clubs’ websites. The following chapter discusses the methodology.
Through the analysis of articles posted on top European football clubs’ websites, an interpretative framing content analysis of racism in football was conducted. Additionally, content analysis was chosen due to its degree of ease for longitudinal analysis (Bryman, 2016). As technology is continuously evolving it would be interesting for scholars to return to this study and investigate what changes have been made. Moreover, websites will be
analyzed as not only are they a source for information for fans (Blumrodt & Huang-
Horowitz, 2017), but there is also a lack of scholarship regarding the frames of racism within football websites.
The studied football clubs’ websites were selected through a purposive sampling strategy to collect a sample adequate for this research’s goals (Etikan et al., 2016). Participants in this year’s current, 2020/2021, UEFA Champions and Europa League were chosen due to their increased airtime. Normally, a club participates in their domestic league’s competition and in domestic cup competitions. However, the participation of select teams in UEFA’s
tournaments adds to their visibility on screen, in the stadiums, and on social media. This results in more influence and exposure whereby clubs have more opportunity to present their
messages to the public. Articles ranging from the years 2002 through 2021 were analyzed.
Ultimately, websites from 64 clubs from multiple European leagues were chosen for analysis (see Table 1). Then, articles within the websites were selected based on the following criteria:
1. The article was accessed on the football clubs’ website by:
a. clicking the ‘News’ tab, or an equivalent tab, located on the navigation menu or
b. employing a search using the website’s search bar
2. The article title or description included at least one of the following terms:
a. at least one of the following generic terms in English or the respective team’s native language namely, Spanish, Italian, German, French, Portuguese, Dutch, Turkish, Russian, Romanian, Ukrainian, Swedish, Czech, Danish, Polish, Greek, Serbian, Bulgarian, Hungarian, or Croatian: ‘racist’, ‘racism’, ‘racista’,
‘racismo’, ‘razzista’, ‘razzismo’, ‘rassist’, ‘rassismus’, ‘raciste’, ‘racisme’,
‘ırkçı’, ‘ırkçılık’ ‘расист’, ‘расизм’, ‘rasist’, ‘rasism’, ‘расистський’,
‘rasista’, ‘rasismus’, ‘rasistowski’, ‘rasizm’, ‘ρατσιστής’, ‘ρατσισμός’
‘расистички’, ‘расизам’ ‘pacucmku’, ‘расизъм’ ‘rasszista’, ‘rasszizmus’,
‘rasistički’, ‘rasizam’; or
b. a term that referred to anti-racism campaigns that span internationally:
‘#equalgame’, ‘equal game’, ‘Kick it Out’, ‘Football Against Racism in Europe’, ‘FARE’, ‘black lives matter’, ‘black history month’ in the title or description of the article (the one or two sentences under the title are considered as the description).
3. The word news was included in the article’s URL 4. The articles were in English.
5. At least 25% of the article’s main content should be concerned with racism, to avoid the analysis of irrelevant topics.
News is defined as noteworthy information (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). Therefore, by including news in the URL clubs conveyed the information on articles was important for readers.
Furthermore, certain terms were searched for in clubs’ native language as, despite being in English, article titles often included words in their native languages. The analysis included only text articles and excluded all other media. The final sample resulted in 247 articles from 24 different (see Table 2).
Once the data collection was complete the articles were coded using the ATLAS.ti software version 184.108.40.206. Articles were uploaded to the database, and electronically coded. The research began with deductive codes, namely Entman’s four main types of frames, that served as four umbrella categories. Subsequently, all articles were inductively coded, by creating and applying codes under these umbrella codes. For example, under the umbrella code “Problem”, the inductive code “Social Media” was created. Another example, under the umbrella “Solution”, includes the inductive code “Education”. Finally, each sentence within the article acted as a unit of analysis and were coded by one coder, namely the researcher herself.
The current research identified two opposing frames regarding racism, namely the acknowledgment of racism within football and the denial of racism. Most clubs
acknowledged racism existing within football by confirming situations where racist abuse transpired or by offering solutions to combat it. For example, during an event dedicated to
raising awareness, Barcelona’s president revealed his first step in the club’s fight against racism by saying “Bartomeu put forth three ideas: the first is to recognise that we have a problem” (F.C. Barcelona, 2017, para. 4)
Contrastingly, while the denial of racism was not a common affirmation, articles found on the websites of Inter Milan, Napoli, Dynamo Kyiv, and Spartak Moscow framed racism as non-existent. The denial of racism often occurred after club affiliates were accused of racial abuse. In other instances, clubs simply took an opportunity to present themselves as a racism free zone. For example, in a piece supporting UEFA’s anti-racism
recommendations, Dynamo Kyiv also pointed out their racism free environment, “Dynamo African stars that featuring for our club state that they didn’t experience any racial
discrimination here” (Dynamo Kyiv, 2015, para. 7)
Additionally, the current research also identified that football clubs’ websites framed racism as a problem happening on two distinct platforms, namely online and in person. Most articles identified racism via social media. Instances of abuse via social media included responses from fans to players missed goal opportunities to others seemingly random, as was the case of Lauren James. Her team, Manchester United, expressed their disappointment as their list of players who suffer abuse via social media increased: “She was speaking after United attacker Lauren James was, sadly, the latest footballer to receive racist abuse online following with the likes of first-team players Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe and Marcus Rashford who been targeted in recent weeks” (Plant, 2021, para. 1) Conversely, many articles listed examples of locations where in-person racism transpired such as stadiums, trains, terraces, and bars as examples of locations where racist acts transpired. For example, Borussia Dortmund describes the importance of partnering with Feyenoord to create progress,
“In the Netherlands, anti-Semitic songs are unfortunately still regularly heard, especially during games against Ajax” (Borussia Dortmund, 2021, para. 3).
Another finding made through this work is the acknowledgement of negative
challenges that racism brings about for those involved in incidents. Most often it was players who expressed feelings of sadness, loneliness, and invalidation after encountering racist abuse, yet more crucial for them was the worry of having to raise children in this hostile environment. Chelsea’s Antonio Rüdiger expressed his worry by stating, “I became a father last Thursday and you start thinking society hasn't come far enough in fighting racism so my kids will probably suffer as well” (Chelsea FC, 2020, para.13).
Furthermore, top football clubs most often framed fans, followed by players, and right-wing extremist groups as a problem for racism in football. First, football fans were most often framed by the football clubs as with the ones displaying racist behavior. Fans were found to turn to social media, hurl insult at players from stadium stands, and use monkey noises to express their racist sentiments. For example, an Eintracht Frankfurt player conveys his thoughts regarding racism perpetuated by fans, “Many people don’t know what it’s like to be insulted that way by supporters, just because you have a different skin colour” (Eintracht Frankfurt, 2018, para. 4). Furthermore, a few articles portrayed the players themselves as a cause of racism. For example, Manchester United detailed how one of their players handled a racist incident, “Elanga spoke to match officials about the conduct of an opposition player when Sweden faced Italy last month, and the Swedish Football Federation notified UEFA about the incident” (Røys, 2021, para. 4). Further, this research identified the group politically known as the right-wing as a cause of racism. Borussia Dortmund, for example, details their racist encounters with the right-wing by saying, “On several occasions in the recent past, employees of BVB have been victims of intense verbal attacks and intimidation attempts by right-wing groups with no connection to football whatsoever” (Borussia
Dortmund, 2015, para. 3) Thereby through their articles clubs frame the problem of racism by acknowledging and denying it, identifying it online and in person, identifying the challenging
repercussions of racism, and identifying groups of people such as fans, players, and the right- wing who perpetuate racist abuse.
Moreover, this work also identified the causes of racism as framed by clubs’ websites. First it was identified that social media is perceived by clubs as facilitating racist abuse online. Clubs largely expressed their disappointment at the lack of restrictions and ownership taken by social media in the battle against racism. Kick It Out Chair, Sanjay Bhandari, conveyed his feelings towards social media by stating, “Social media is now sadly a regular vessel for toxic abuse” (Chelsea FC, 2020, para. 26). Further, media was also portrayed as a cause of racism by clubs due to their constant differentiation of Blacks even when lauding them. Chelsea provides an example of this by stating, “From Shakespeare’s Iago to some of today’s bloggers and commentators, differentiating black players as fast and strong (‘a beast’), smiling sunnily, rather than technical and smart, betrays the same old colonialist mindset”
(Chelsea FC, 2021, para. 23). Finally, while many clubs recount instances of racism they rarely elaborate on the events leading up to racist aggressions. Chelsea presents a clear example of this, “It was at Spurs back in December when the match was halted as our
German defender made an official complaint to the referee after hearing racist abuse aimed at him from the home crowd” (Chelsea FC, 2020, para. 1). Therefore, this work identifies a lack of explanation for causes of racism in addition to social media, and media as causes of
Moreover, findings revealed that the moral judgement that was overwhelmingly made most often by football clubs was the condemnation of racism. It was followed by deeming racism a societal issue, taking pride in diversity, considering it a serious issue, disbelief, and
disappointment. Clubs expressed their condemnation for racism by flatly stating their
condemnation, warning of repercussions such as lifetime bans from stadiums, presenting campaigns titled ‘Reds Against Racism, emphasizing their attendance at anti-racism events, and collaborating with initiatives dedicated to the eradication of racism amongst others.
Eintracht Frankfurt, for example, made their position clear by stating, “As a team and as Eintracht Frankfurt, we stand together against all forms of racism and we want to show this to the outside world today” (Eintracht Frankfurt, 2020, para. 6) .
Many clubs also communicated their feeling that racism is not an issue exclusive to football, but rather an issue deeply rooted in society. This affirmation was often made jointly when clubs condemned racism and when clubs presented initiatives tackling racism in football, they emphasized the need for similar measures to be applied in a manner which is inclusive of society as a whole. For example, while Celtic echoed Eintracht Frankfurt’s previous sentiment they feel the issue stems deeper, “As footballers we have the profile to make this stand and project this strong public message, but racism exists across all areas of society, so in our everyday lives, each and everyone of us can live by the same message and ensure that the values of tolerance, respect and inclusion are part of who we are” (Celtic Football Club, 2021, para. 12).
Additionally, this work found that many clubs perceived diversity in their clubs as something to be proud of. Clubs demonstrated their pride by more than merely stating so.
Clubs turned to children to highlight important contributions of those with diverse
backgrounds, created videos spreading the message that diversity is something to be proud of, and highlighted their efforts to remain diversity filled clubs by providing information via their websites. For their part, Leicester demonstrated their pride in diversity by stating,
“Football is a diverse sport, which brings together communities and cultures from all
backgrounds and this diversity makes the competition stronger” (Leicester, 2021, para. 11).
Moreover, this research also found that clubs frame racism on their websites as a serious issue. Along with stating that racism is a serious issue, clubs often simultaneously stressed their continued commitment to spreading awareness, the need for solutions, their dedication in the fight against racism, and added their concerns regarding social medias laid back attitude in the face of the problem. Chelsea conveyed their concern by stating, “We will not stand still on this important issue, and we will continue to work with our clubs, players and partners to address all discriminatory behaviour with tangible long-term action and strong messaging to fans” (Chelsea FC, 2020, para. 15).
Further, in the face of racism clubs often conveyed their disbelief at these
discriminatory actions. Clubs expressed their disbelief at racist events that transpired in and outside of football. Most often it was players expressing their disbelief at attacks aimed at them. A RB Salzburg player explains his feelings, “I was really shocked, as I had never thought that something like this would happen” (RB Salzburg, 2017, para. 2). Relatedly, clubs also expressed disappointment when dealing with racist abuse. Clubs described being disappointed in the racist abuse transpiring, underrepresentation within clubs outside of the player level, and at the lack of disciplinary action by football authorities. After a racist incident involving one of their players Manchester United presented their disappointment at UEFA’s decision by saying, “We think it’s disappointing that UEFA now have chosen not to take this further to their disciplinary committee” (Røys, 2021, para. 8). Thereby the moral judgements framed by football clubs were deeming racism a societal issue, the condemnation of it, taking pride in diversity, considering it a serious issue, disbelief, and disappointment Solutions
Moreover, regardless of all problems, causes, and moral judgements, all clubs framed racism as a problem that must be eradicated. Thereby this work identified numerous activities employed or mentioned by clubs as means to eradicate racism. The solutions clubs turned to
most were collaboration, awareness, education, commitment, creation of initiatives, equality, promotion of diversity, reporting, financial contribution, social media related solutions, responsibility, and using football as a solution.
The most common solution clubs enacted against racism was collaboration. Clubs were eager to join initiatives’, such as FARE, No Room for Racism, Black Lives Matter, and partner with fans, their domestic league, international clubs, sponsors, and the government amongst others. Their actives were diverse and ranged from players taking time to play with local school children, like in the case of Ludogorets, to the likes of Shaktar Donetsk who opted for dressing their mascots in FARE attire, or to collaborating with the police in an investigation regarding racist abuse like in Chelsea’s case. Inter, for example, expressed the need for everyone to work together for a better world, “Suggestive, symbolic, real; it was held this morning in Piazza Duomo in Milan, and it saw students, teachers, common citizens, and athletes of every race and colour joined together to put on a display of equality,
brotherhood and respect for human dignity” (Inter Official Site, 2019, para. 1).
Aside from collaboration, clubs found many ways in which to spread awareness regarding the issue some, like Barcelona, simply mentioned the need for it: “The fight against racism must involve awareness and, therefore, education” (F.C. Barcelona, 2017, para. 4).
Others like Villareal participated in campaigns aimed to raise awareness, Borussia Dortmund organized trips to memorial sites, Bayern Munich sold t-shirts with “Reds against Racism”
and donated their proceeds, PSV showed anti-racism videos before their match, and Young Boys replaced their jersey sponsor with “Against violence and racism”.
Additionally, clubs also found education, specifically that of children, to be an
important factor when tackling racism. For example, Manchester United delivered workshops across their partner schools, Chelsea and Leicester released educational resources available free to children, Barcelona highlighted “working with the youth” as key points of new
strategies, and Inter joined forces with other international clubs to educate children on racism.
However, education was not solely focused on children. Celtic, for example, looks to educate the youth but also adults including those incarcerated, Manchester City provided enhanced training for stewards to ensure they are better equipped to respond to discriminatory abuse and gather evidence efficiently, Borussia Dortmund provide an option for fans found guilty of abuse to reduce their fines by engaging in educational programs, and finally Spartak Moscow uses their senior players to educate younger players on respectful communication. Another solution clubs turned to was commitment.
Furthermore, this research identified that clubs believe responsibility should be taken up by the numerous parties involved. Apart from admitting their own responsibility in eliminating racism clubs believe others such as social media companies take responsibility for eliminating racism within their platforms. Leicester, for example, said, “Social media companies need to be held accountable if they continue to fall short of their moral and social responsibilities to address this endemic problem” (Leicester, 2021, para. 7).
Clubs often took any opportunity to reassure their commitment in the fight against racism. They highlighted their continued participation in anti-racism events, their values which stand for inclusion, or initiatives tackling racism. Juventus emphasized the importance of commitment by saying, “The goal is to be able to involve beneficiaries who enjoy the sports project and become active in ensuring the continuation of the project in the years to follow, becoming the reference point for migrant women's sport against all discrimination”
(Juventus, 2020, para. 9).
Further, clubs also turned to the creation of initiatives as solutions for racism.
However, these initiatives were not only created by clubs but instead included those created by fans, leagues, and authorities. Manchester United described an idea shared by an ex-player that included borrowing initiatives from other sports, “Fortune also discusses the idea of the
‘Rooney Rule’ being introduced to English football, which would ensure that at least one BAME candidate is interviewed for every coaching position” (Froggatt, 2020, para. 7).
Comparably, clubs see the promotion of diversity as a solution for racism. They stress the importance of representation, for example, through Edouard Mendy who is one of the few Black keepers within top football, and others emphasized the benefits of diversity. For their part, Chelsea chose to partner with an organization dedicated to diversity, “The Chelsea FC Foundation teamed up with The Black Collective of Media in Sport (BCOMS), an
organisation on a mission to diversify the sports media in the UK, to offer aspiring sports journalists from under-represented backgrounds free access to journalistic qualifications”
(Chelsea, 2021, para. 14).
In a similar manner, clubs also believed that the creation of equality within football could be a solution for racism. They stress the need for positions such as managerial roles to equally available to all, to provide resources for those marginalized, and the review of policies to make sure content and opportunities are applicable and available to all. Leicester, for example, describe their efforts to provide equal opportunities to all, “The Inspires
programme uses the appeal of the Premier League and Leicester City to support 11-25-year- olds who are marginalised or at risk of not reaching their potential; supporting them as they move through the education system and early adulthood” (Leicester, 2021, para. 8).
Another solution that many clubs agreed on was reporting abuse whether that be to stewards, match officials, or to the clubs themselves. Clubs encouraged everyone from fans to players to personnel to report so as to hold perpetrators accountable. Chelsea shared the news of an app created by the Kick It Out group and explain the way it would work, “Wherever an incident is reported, it will be raised with the clubs involved, Kick It Out, the governing body, and the League to be investigated appropriately” (Chelsea FC, 2013, para. 9).
However, other clubs turned to financial contributions as a solution for racism. Clubs raised money by selling t-shirts, hosting dinners, and auctioning jerseys. Borussia Dortmund reaffirmed their stance in the fight against racism by saying, “BVB puts a lot of passion, work ethics and also financial commitment to anti-racism projects” (Borussia Dortmund, 2014, para. 2).
Additionally, clubs also offered social media related solutions. Clubs believe social media companies must put forward some sort of action to tackle online racism. They
suggested the facilitation of identifying of perpetrators and sanctions for these, but they also took matters into their own hands after social media companies’ lack of response. Clubs joined social media boycotts, established their own policies regarding abuse on social media, and developed a monitoring system. Chelsea describes their efforts to monitor social media,
“We engaged the early warning risk intelligence agency Crisp to help us identify, report and, where possible and dependent on platform functionality, remove hateful and discriminatory posts” (Chelsea, 2021, para. 6).
Finally, clubs also posed using football as a solution by emphasizing football’s influence and power as it is a mutual love for many. Dinamo Zagreb expressed this feeling clearly, “Today, in Europe, Professional football has one of the most socially powerful voices, with a reach of millions” (Dinamo Zagreb, 2020, para. 3). Thereby collaboration, awareness, education, commitment, initiatives, equality, promotion of diversity, reporting, financial contributions, football as a solution, and responsibility were the solution clubs turned to most often when tackling racism.
Racism has been a rampant issue throughout football for many years. Racist attacks have ranged from insults to death threats (Doidge, 2015; Kilvington & Price, 2018), yet despite the severity of these attacks racism continues to be an issue in football. Therefore, to develop a
better understanding of racism within football, this research investigated the ways in which clubs frame racism. Through an interpretative content analysis of articles published on top European clubs’ websites, and by creating a new framework based on Entman’s theoretical framework this work aimed to identify the problem in racism in football, causes of racism in football, moral judgements in football, and solutions to racism in football. These findings will be discussed below.
First, this work identified that top European clubs frame the acknowledgment and denial of racism as a problem. Scholars concur and have also acknowledged the existence of racism within football. For example, Arnold & Veth (2018) described abuse against Yaya Toure during a Champions League match where fans shouted racist insults, displayed a swastika, and threw banana peels at him. Contrastingly, but also consistent with this research’s findings, racism in football has been denied on multiple instances. For example, through this research, Dynamo Kyiv was identified as only one of four clubs that denied racism in their clubs or countries. Correspondingly, previous research found former FIFA president, Sepp Blatter, apart from downplaying racism ultimately stated “There is not racism [on the field]” (Baker & Rowe, 2013 p. 442) Similarly, French Football Federation President, Noel Le Great, responded to football player Neymar’s allegations of racism by saying racism
“does not exist in football” (Smith, 2021, p. 270).
Furthermore, this research also identified that football clubs frame both social media and in-person racist abuse as a problem. This finding differs from what previous research regarding racism in football discusses. While some research makes mention of social media as a platform for racism in football it mostly discusses racism in person (Bennett & Jönsson, 2017; Dixon, Lowes, & Gibbons, 2014), other work focuses mostly on in person racism (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013; Doidge, 2016; van Sterkenburg, Peeters, & van Amsterdam, 2019), and leaves us with less focusing solely on social media (Cleland, 2013; Kilvington &
Price, 2017). Moving forward it will be important for scholars to include social media in their work when analyzing racism in football. An interesting course of research would be the employment of this research’s newly adapted theoretical framework in a social media context regarding racism in football.
Additionally, this research identified that clubs frame the negative impacts racism has on victims, especially players, as a problem. While previous research presents instances of players performance being affected, such as players sent off for responding to racist fans or others opting to walk off the pitch and stop playing completely (Doidge, 2016), it rarely delves into other repercussions victims of racism suffer. Therefore, it would be appropriate to continue research regarding racism and mental health in football. Findings could result in the impetus society needs to move towards a racism free environment.
Moreover, this work also identified the framing of fans, player, and right-wing groups as a problem by football clubs. This is consistent with previous findings that have also found these groups of people to be perpetrators of racism. Njororai Simiyu (2021) describes a multitude of situations in which these groups were found to be guilty of racist abuse. For example he described how, in 2018 Mesut Ozil, who is of Turkish ancestry, retired from the German national team after reoccurring racist abuse by fans. Additionally, he detailed how players of color were racially abused by their opponents who subsequently resorted to violent abuse. The scholar also reminds us of events in 2009 when a far-right German political party publicly requested there be no players of African descent on the national team. More recently, in 2017, Italian supporters were heard singing the Fascist hymn ‘Me ne frego’ while passages from Anne Frank’s diary were read (Martin, 2018).
Furthermore, this work identified both social and traditional media as causes of racism in football, and it found football clubs do not explicitly list causes of racism but instead only acknowledge the racist abuse transpired. Scholars, such as Cleland and
Cashmore (2013), also acknowledge social media as a new platform for racism and highlight the shelter it provides through its anonymity. Penfold and Cleland (2021) further contend that social media must implement more severe sanctions when it comes to racism. However, despite these examples, there is a lack of research regarding racism in football via social media. Thereby scholars should consider this area of study in future work. Further, scholars have also considered traditional media as a cause of racism. For example, Njororai Simiyu (2021) describes comments made by an Italian commentator who, when referring to Romelu Lukaku, said that the only way to stop him was by feeding him bananas. He also details the case of an Italian newspaper who chose to feature the headline “Black Friday” alongside their cover picturing two Black players within Italy’s Serie A.
Further, this research identified condemnation, racism as a societal issue, being proud of diversity, racism as a serious issue, disbelief, and disappointment as the moral judgement frames made by football clubs. First, in line with this work’s findings, scholars found racism in football was condemned by those in the football community including the likes of clubs, players, and others (Bradley, 2013; Carrington, 2012). Further, Hassan and McCue (2012), detail FARE’s 10-point action plan against racism which includes the public condemnation of racism during matches. Additionally, scholars also concur with the finding that identifies racism a societal issue. Scholars have deemed racism a problem spanning European countries such as Spain (Llopis-Goig, 2013), England (Dixon, Lowes, & Gibbons 2014), Italy (Gould
& Williams, 2011), and others (Kassimeris, 2009; Kassimeris, 2009). However, moral judgements that were not found in previous scholarship were clubs considering racism a serious issue, feelings of pride towards diversity, and disbelief. Whereas this study’s findings, such as taking pride in diversity, considering racism a serious issue, and feeling disbelief when racist acts transpire portray clubs as taking steps in the right direction previous scholarship disagrees. Kilvington and Price (2017) identified shortcomings in the fight
against racism, this included the unwillingness of clubs to admit the severity of the issue.
Relatedly, despite clubs feeling pride in their diversity some scholars point out the lack of it not only within managerial positions but also deeper within the organizational structure (Burdsey, 2011; Penfold & Cleland, 2021). Similarly, few scholars have described disbelief as a reaction to racist abuse (Bradbury, 2006) instead it is more often described as
unsurprising (Doidge, 2016; Merkel, 2013). These findings are important as they demonstrate the inconsistencies between the ways in which football clubs perceive racism compared to their actions regarding racism. This lack of understanding could result in gaps that hinder any progress related to racism in football. Therefore it presents an interesting research topic where scholars could explore the alignment, or misalignment, of racism related frames comparing what football clubs say and do. Finally, scholarship concurs with this research regarding feelings of disappointment regarding racist actions. Cleland and Cashmore (2013) found disappointment amongst fans themselves at the lack of intervention by other fans that have witnessed racial abuse, and others described players feelings of sadness due to being victims of racism.
Additionally, in accordance with previous scholarship, this research identified
collaboration, awareness, creation of initiatives, promoting diversity, reporting, commitment, equality, responsibility, financial contributions, education, social media related solutions, and responsibility as a solutions clubs put forward to address racism. For example, FARE,
established in 2001, has since collaborated with numerous clubs to jointly take a stance against racism (Wachter & Fanizadeh, 2008). Similarly, the English Premier League (EPL) supported players who joined the Black Lives Matter movement by kneeling before matches.
The EPL further joined the fight against racism with the creation of the No Room for Racism initiative which aims to eliminate racism both on the pitch and online (Penfold & Cleland, 2021). In addition to the EPL, fans also see the creation of anti-racism initiatives as a viable
solution. Specifically, they call for more initiatives that focus on equality such as Football Without Borders who works towards the implementation of equality. Further, organizations such as Kick It Out, Nigdy Więcej (Never Again), and Association of Active Football Fans have devoted years to raising awareness and promoting diversity in football (Penfold &
Cleland, 2021; Doidge, 2016). Kick It Out has taken it one step further by developing an app through which racist abuse can be reported in real time (Lentin & Humphry, 2016).
Regarding commitment, scholars have noted that after being pushed on the issue of racism sporting authorities turned to commitment (Bradbury, 2013), and in a similar manner fans also expressed the need for strong commitment to tackle racism (Spaaij & Viñas, 2013).
Scholars have further listed a lack of financial capital as a hurdle when tackling racism (Penfold & Cleland, 2021). Therefore, donations to anti-racism initiatives such as those made by Nike and Thierry Henry are crucial (Llopis-Goig, 2013). Furthermore, scholars concur that football should be used to tackle racism as they agree on the power and influence football has to define cultural habits (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013; Doidge, 2016). Moreover, while scholars also identified education as a solution for racism they have been cautious. Scholars noted that education must not simply address acts of racism but also social prejudice.
Additionally, they note that targeting a specific group for education, such as the white working class, could lead to backlash as they would feel singled out (Cleland & Cashmore, 2013). Furthermore, scholars also call for greater efforts by social media to regulate and challenge racism (Kilvington & Price, 2018). Finally, previous research agrees with this work and they too believe parties involved must take ownership and join the fight against racism.
Scholars have detailed numerous occasions where entities who do not admit responsibility led to failed attempts to eliminate racism. For example, another shortcoming identified by
Kilvington and Price (2017) is that entities, clubs amongst them, do not have clarity regarding their responsibility in this matter.
Through these findings this work contributes to scholarship regarding football in racism by focusing on the way tops clubs frame the issue of racism. It presents an evolution of racism that having once only existed in-person has now expanded to online platforms. It also demonstrates that despite this expansion which serves to further substantiate racism in football there are still those who negate the issue. Further, it unveils causes of racism such as the language chosen by traditional media when portraying people of color, or the lack of restrictions and anonymity social media brings. Moreover, this work deepens the
understanding of clubs’ feelings towards racism by demonstrating they both find it
unacceptable and acknowledge the repercussions victims can suffer. Lastly, it offers an array of solutions that clubs have employed against racism and brings about opportunity for these to be further compared in terms of efficacy.
However, this study is not without limitations, clubs still have a long way to go. Over a third of the analyzed data was collected from two English clubs, and Eastern European clubs were largely underrepresented making up less than one percent of the data. That is not say Western European countries all provided significant amounts of data. French and Portuguese clubs, for example, are completely unrepresented. Additionally, even though Spain is one of the countries with the highest club representation in this study (six) only 5 of the 247 articles analyzed can be attributed to Spanish clubs. Consequently, it is possible that results are skewed, but this also brings about other possibilities. For example, future research could focus solely on the English Premier League and subsequently develop a guide for other clubs based on its findings.
The aim of this study was to identify the different frames presented by Europe’s top football clubs regarding racism. The frames problem, cause of problem, moral judgements, and solutions were explored all within the context of racism in football. Findings under the
problem frame corroborated the existence of racism and the simultaneous denial of it, and further identified the evolution of social media enabled racism to transpire in other new platforms. These findings also substantiated that racism expands beyond fans and includes many aspects society such as right-wing extremists and social media. It is perhaps then unsurprising that this research concurred with scholars regarding the moral judgement of racism being framed by football clubs as an issue that stems from society and is not localized within football. However, this work also contributed novel findings such as clubs taking pride in their clubs’ diversity along with acknowledging the repercussions of racism on its victims.
Finally, in accordance with previous scholarship it found the likes of awareness,
collaboration, and education as key solutions to eradicate racism. Importantly, this work builds on previous scholarship by demonstrating that clubs are, in their own ways, interested in eradicating racism, and are taking the step from raising awareness to enacting initiatives such as education. However, it is also a call for football clubs continue their work against racism by revaluating their strategies.
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