World football’s governing body has thrown its weight behind a planned 24-hour social media boycott by professional players in England in a protest against racial abuse and announced plans for a new global campaign to eradicate discrimination in the sport.
FIFA said on Thursday it “applauded” the move by footballers in the UK, which will see several English Premier League stars stay off Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for 24 hours from 9am local time (08:00 GMT) on Friday.
“FIFA is fully engaged in combating racism and any form of discrimination not only in football but society in general,” the organisation told The Associated Press in a statement.
The Zurich-based governing body said it was also “preparing a concrete action with worldwide impact that will launch a powerful campaign against discrimination”.
It is readying to write to all 211 of its member associations worldwide and the six regional football confederations encouraging them to adopt a three-step procedure that allows a referee to stop play, suspend a game, and ultimately abandon the fixture if discriminatory abuse persists.
FIFA was criticised in 2016 for dismantling its anti-racism task force after saying its mission had been completed.
‘Football has a problem with racism’
The organisation’s statement came after the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), the trade union for professional footballers in England and Wales, announced the social media boycott plan earlier on Thursday.
“The boycott is the first step in a longer campaign to tackle racism in football,” the PFA said in a statement published on its website.
“[It] acts as a show of unity by the players, and a call for stronger action to be taken by social networks and footballing authorities in response to racist abuse both on and off the pitch,” it added.
Several high-profile players were quick to publicly support the campaign.
“Collectively, we are simply not willing to stand-by while too little is done by football authorities and social media companies to protect players from this disgusting abuse,” England and Tottenham Hotspur defender Danny Rose said in a statement.
“Football has a problem with racism,” Rose added.
After being targeted with monkey noises while playing for England in Montenegro in a European Championship qualifier last month, Rose said he couldn’t wait for his career to end to escape racism in football.
Other players, including Manchester United defender Chris Smalling, Watford forward Troy Deeney and Arsenal striker Danielle Carter, said they would also take part in the boycott.
“Football is more popular than it has ever been, but we have a discontented generation of players who won’t stand for racist abuse any longer. Enough is enough,” Carter said.
Social media giants under scrutiny
Smalling, meanwhile, said “the time has come” for social media platforms to better regulate their channels and take responsibility for “protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex or income”.
Smalling’s teammate and Manchester United captain Ashley Young was the target of racist abuse on Twitter earlier this week following United’s Champions League defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday.
Twitter was swift to respond, confirming the posts concerned had violated its abusive behaviour policy and saying in a statement it used “proprietary-built internal technology to proactively find abusive content”.
But anti-discrimination football organisation Kick It Out asked for more serious action, however, with the abuse of Young only the latest in a string of incidents on the online platform, including vitriol aimed at Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah.
Watford captain Troy Deeney, who was the victim of racial insults on Instagram earlier this month after scoring in an FA Cup semifinal win over Wolverhampton, said on Thursday it was time for a fight against racism “wherever and whenever we see it”.
“On Friday, we are sending a message to anyone that abuses players – or anyone else – whether from the crowd or online, that we won’t tolerate it within football,” Deeney said.