Racism in football isn't caused by Brexit

18 Aug 2016


There is a harmful and disingenuous tendency among Remain backers to take anything negative, even things which were already occurring before 23rd June, and with a reckless twist of continuity attribute its existence to Brexit.


The chairman of the Kick It Out campaign to end racism in football, Lord Ouseley, made this all too clear in an interview with the Guardian last week. He argued that the Brexit vote has already led to a rise in intolerance among football fans, but where is the evidence?


The referendum took place during the off-season. The Premier League hadn't yet started when Ouseley made his comments, while the Championship and Leagues One and Two had played just one round of matches. But Ouseley makes no reference to any racist incidents occurring during those matches. It was a perfectly normal opening weekend of football, so where is Ouseley's Brexit backed trend towards intolerance?


In June and July there was the European Cup in France, during which- as has been the case so very many times before- a small minority of England fans ran around, threw some chairs, and behaved in a generally anti-social manner. The first incidents occurred in Marseille, where in a variation from their usual songs, a small number of travelling supporters tried out some new material- topically inserting a few chants about leaving the EU.


Despite these outbreaks of violence among England supporters occurring before the referendum, Ouseley ties the two together, blaming Brexit campaigning for the supporters' behaviour in France:


“It comes from this recent exposure and diet they were getting from around [Brexit] campaigning that sent out the wrong messages, the subliminal hatred of other people came through all the debating that was happening. People did feel empowered and felt they now had a licence to say what they liked.”


To Lord Ouseley, these people are empty vessels who merely see and repeat, and are particularly prone to spooky subliminal influence. Had they been exposed to nothing but Rastamouse for several months preceding the tournament, might it all have passed off more peacefully? Had we all been exposed to nothing but Rastamouse for several months before the referendum would we be staying in the EU? Heaven forbid that we should be sullied by robust political campaigning- where might it all lead?


To blame English football supporters' predictable violence and insensitive chants on Brexit campaigning is to ignore the past several decades of international football. At the time that the tournament's fixture locations were announced it was clearly pointed out that there was the potential for trouble- there had been incidents with England fans in Marseille during the World Cup of 1998.


Were the small faction of England supporters who caused trouble in the summer of 1998 xenophobic, aggressive and out-of-control? Yes they were, and in all the previous incidents too, going back through many years of football hooliganism. All of this violence has been completely unrelated to our political relationship with the rest of Europe, so why suddenly try to tie it in as a causative factor now?


On the wider problem of racism, in everyday life and around football, which has been in steady decline for decades now, Ouseley stated:


“It has been noticeable for at least two and a half years that there has been a rise in what I would call intolerance … There is an underlying subliminal message that all came to the fore during the last few weeks with ‘We want our country back’ and so on.”


Again with the subliminal messages and the blurring of cause and effect. If there has been a rise in intolerance for two and a half years, then what does it have to do with Brexit? How has it 'come to the fore'? There's simply no reason to bring the referendum into the discussion here.


Ouseley goes on to talk about the problem of intolerance in grassroots football:


“The lower down you go, the more it manifests itself... there are no cameras, there is no complaints system. Schools, playgrounds, the streets. That's where the next generation are and many of them can't afford to go to Premier League football.”


So the message is that 'lower down', in schools and playgrounds there are no cameras and there is no one in a uniform handing out complaints forms. Correct me if I'm wrong Lord Ouseley, but I don't detect much appetite for government surveillance of schools and playgrounds.


These issues are also nothing to do with Brexit, but it's telling that they have been nebulously conflated together. Stay in the EU. Put up more CCTV cameras. Stop being intolerant. It appears that Ouseley has inadvertently created an example of the fearful subliminal influencing that so disturbs him.


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