England football’s first hate crimes officer Stuart Ward believes that a long period of closed-door matches, coupled with a lack of accountability and education, is leading more people to abuse online players than a way that will harm their mental well-being.
Ward’s new role in the West Midlands Police Football Unit will cover reported infractions, from professional play to grassroots, although he admits the world of social media is becoming incredibly difficult to control.
Kick It Out reported a 42% increase in discrimination last season and in the Midlands a 12-year-old boy from Solihull received training sessions as part of the restorative justice process after racially abusing the Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha online last July.
Ward believes that sending these types of messages is far too easy and that a wider education is vital in trying to tackle a growing problem.
“It’s really easy to log into a computer and sit behind a keyboard and start typing abuse on someone without any impact on what they’re doing, it’s a little different than a day game where we can investigate right away – on a game day people can be identified, ”Ward told Sky Sports.
“Now people are turning to social media because they can sit behind screens, create accounts, and abuse players or individuals because of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or if they are disabled and that is unacceptable.
“To me education is huge, we have a generation that we can target in schools and give them the confidence to know what a hate crime is and they can report it, report it, challenge it and only way we ever get around this problem is by questioning behavior and educating people. “
Ward’s own experiences of discrimination in football date back over 20 years to racist abuse as a young player at the local level and he feels he can relate to top players who are regularly subjected to similar treatment.
He has already had positive conversations with clubs in the Midlands, including Aston Villa, and also says it’s important for police and social media companies to ‘sing the same hymn sheet’ when it comes to identify offenders.
“I’ve had racism my whole life, it started with a young footballer, playing junior football at 11 – I was targeted because of the color of my skin,” adds Ward. “It has a huge impact. To this day, I remember it very clearly and can still relate to it. I hope I can take advantage of it to change cultures and behaviors.
“(I was) shocked, sad, depressed. You feel different even though you’re not and it’s overwhelming.
“It will have a huge impact, in football there is always a stigma in men’s football that they think that because they are footballers they are not under pressure for some reason, but they are targeted and that will impact them. I know myself because it impacted me. “
Kick it out signaling racism
Kick It Out is the football for equality and inclusion organization – which works across the football, education and community sectors to fight discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for change. positive.