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How is football tackling racism on social media?


Raheem Sterling has been a leading voice in the fight against racism

Abuse of footballers, and in particular racist abuse, has provided an unwelcome theme throughout this season.

Raheem Sterling has spoken openly and eloquently in leading the fight against such abuse.

Juventus and Italy forward Moise Kean hit back with his celebrations – mocking Cagliari fans for abusing him after scoring against them.

Sterling’s England team-mate Danny Rose said he could not wait to “see the back of football” because of a lack of action taken against fan racism.

Barely a week – often a day – goes by at the moment without a story about a footballer being racially abused on social media.

On Wednesday, Manchester United said they “will take the strongest possible action” after defender Ashley Young was racially abused on Twitter.

So what are clubs, the authorities and players themselves doing in response?

Clubs – a need to protect players

“A player’s transfer market value can be driven by their social media presence, so if the clubs are willing to profit from that, then they also need to protect them.”

Those are the words of Ben Wright, head of sport at communications agency Cicero, who work with a number of clubs and players, including those in the Premier League and Spain’s La Liga, around aspects of their social media use.

One of Cicero’s main roles is to produce reports for clients on a player or potential transfer target’s character by analysing their online presence, while the agency also offers advice and guidance on how to deal with abuse on social media.

“Some clubs are great, some not so good, but generally they are all moving in the right direction and realise they have this duty of care,” Wright told BBC Sport.

“Social media in its most basic form is a direct contact channel between players and fans, which you previously only got at the stadium in matches.”

Chelsea prevented three people from entering the stadium for last week’s Europa League quarter-final at Slavia Prague after a video was circulated on social media of a group of fans singing an abusive song about Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah.

The club said it will “take the strongest possible action” when there is evidence of Chelsea season-ticket holders or members involved in such behaviour, calling it “an embarrassment”, while the Metropolitan Police said it would seek to apply for civil football banning orders.

When Wigan defender Nathan Byrne received racist abuse on Twitter following a draw with Bristol City on 6 April, the Championship club reported it as a hate crime.

A man was subsequently arrested by police on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence and malicious communications, after handing himself in at a police station in Blackpool.

Does outing trolls work?

Wright says it is a common misconception that players’ social media profiles are managed, stating that his clients are in control of their own output.

He adds that Cicero will never tell players what they should or should not do in response to abuse, as it affects each person differently.

Watford captain Troy Deeney disabled comments on Instagram after the alleged abuse aimed at him and his family following the Hornets’ FA Cup semi-final win over Wolves on 7 April.

Deeney said he did so to “prevent young people” from seeing the comments and to not “expose people I care about to these small-minded people”. He has enabled comments on posts since then.

His Watford team-mate Christian Kabasele thanked fans