In response to commentators asking this question, SRtRC Scotland explores the issue
Last March, a Scottish Football League 2 fixture made headlines for all the wrong reasons. A 17-year old East Stirlingshire player called Jordan Tapping had to be substituted after being subjected to racial taunts from the opposing Peterhead fan base. The club and Police Scotland acted quickly and the fan was prosecuted and banned from attending football matches for the next year.
Jordan received hundreds of messages from football fans around the country and Peterhead FC staged a “Show Racism the Red Card” action at their next home game. There was a sense that this, horrible though it had been for Jordan, was an isolated incident.
However, five weeks into this new season, two other alleged incidents have emerged; a verbal attack on Aberdeen’s Shay Logan by Celtic winger, Alexsander Tonev during a game at Celtic Park and abusive chanting and gesturing by members of the crowd towards Celtic defender Virgil Van Djik at St Mirren Park. Some commentators have asked us, ‘is Scottish football becoming more racist?’
Show Racism the Red Card established a Scotland office in 2003. Scottish football clubs and authorities have been hugely supportive of our campaigning and educational activities which have reached hundreds of thousands of football fans and young people. Last year alone, our Fortnight of Red Card Action campaign was seen by over 112,000 fans and we educated against racism and sectarianism to over 14,000 young people.
What is apparent in our conversations across Scotland is that our young people by the age of 12 years old are susceptible to damaging and divisive reporting in the media. For example discussions about UK immigration often lead to the reply ‘illegal’ when asked about the term “immigrant”, or “terrorist” when asked about the term “Muslim”. Clearly, external sources of information, myths and stereotypes impact on young people’s world view and make up their minds for them before they have a chance to think critically. Unfortunately, those stereotypes lay the foundations for the kinds of incidents we have seen at various Scottish football stadiums.
However, what is happening in football isn’t happening in isolation from the rest of society. There were 5,002 racially or religiously aggravated crimes being dealt with by the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service in 2013-14. Meaning last year, every week an average of 96 racist or sectarian behaviours were reported to the Procurator Fiscal. We know that these types of hate crime are also drastically under reported. However, with at least 96 lives every week tainted by the scourge of hate crime based on the ethnicity or religion of the victim, there has never been more need for challenging racism and sectarianism whether it occurs on the pitch, on the terraces, on the street or as is becoming more frequent on-line.
We can never become complacent about those incidences of racism in Scotland and we believe a three pronged approach needs to be taken. In the short-term, the perpetrators must be dealt with swiftly and fairly by the relevant authorities. No-one should be allowed to think that behaving in a racist manner will be tolerated and a racist action not acted upon. In the medium-term their needs to be re-education to those committing racist acts or at risk of committing them.
At Show Racism the Red Card we firmly believe in the words of Nelson Mandela that "No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion.” We are fully behind initiatives that condemn the racist act but do not ‘brand’ the person committing them. Instead, the perpetrator should spend time considering the damage to his or her victim and wider community of their actions. Finally, in the long-term we must seek to prevent racism occurring in the first place and that is why so much of our educational work happens with young people.
Last year our school, community workshops and events at football clubs encouraged participants to think critically about the myths and stereotypes they might believe. We asked them to consider the damage that racism does, not just to the victim but to the wider community. We stressed the importance of safely challenging racism where they may encounter it and gave them suggestions about how they might do it.
Following our input, over 70% of our participants who admit to using racist language or behaviour in the past, say they would not do it again in the future. Simply, the Show Racism the Red Card approach works.