LONDON: English football authorities have been accused by Muslim grassroots players of failing to tackle Islamophobia despite a focus on the broader issue of racism in the sport.
In first-of-its-kind research by Birmingham City University and Nottingham Trent University, more than 40 Muslims shared their experiences of Islamophobia in amateur football at the hands of fans, teammates and opponents.
Muslim women described how wearing the headscarf made them a target of hostility from other players and fans, and blamed Islamophobia for being held back and not selected by their own team. They also revealed that they receive significant hate online.
“I receive racist and misogynistic posts on my Facebook account,” said one female participant. “They call me Isis (Daesh) b**** and (Osama) Bin Laden’s daughter.”
Others said they had struggled to source sponsorship and had to seek counseling because of the abuse they had received, which was often witnessed and repeated by young children attending Sunday games.
“Asian men like me who are brown and have a beard go into predominantly white areas to play football. In these areas they associate being brown and having a beard with being a terrorist,” said a male participant.
“Their first feeling when they see us is negativity and hate because of the propaganda the media perpetuate.”
The researchers linked Islamophobia with a lack of representation in senior football, particularly in the Premier League, but also said “trigger events” such as terrorist attacks and some media reports also played a role.
Racism in English football has been an issue for decades, even at the highest levels. In the 2019-2020 professional season, data gathered by the police and Football Association (FA) found that one in 10 matches had a verifiable incident of racism take place.
Imran Awan, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University, said a “more inclusive” grassroots approach and positive action campaigns are needed to address the problem.
While authorities have introduced measures such as “faith factsheets” for fans and a Ramadan Midnight League for Birmingham locals, Awan said they need to do more to counter Islamophobia.
“At the moment, the FA seems like a national entity that is detached from reality and what is happening locally on the streets,” he added.
“It needs to start over again and encourage home-grown Muslim men and women into football.”