Brexit vote ‘sparks rise in Islamophobia’ against Muslim footballers at grassroots level

Brexit vote ‘sparks rise in Islamophobia’ against Muslim footballers at grassroots level

Players and staff say verbal and physical abuse is a regular feature of non-league clubs’ fixtures since the vote for Brexit.

Players say the abuse goes way above the levels of banter

Muslim footballers playing the game at grassroots level are increasingly being targeted with Islamophobic abuse following Brexit, according to the organisation that monitors racism in football.

Kick It Out said the numbers of cases it has been asked to investigate has increased sharply since the vote to leave Europe.

Troy Townsend, Kick It Out’s education officer, told Sky News: “I was always worried about Brexit and the outcome of that and I think what we’ve found now is people want to take ownership a lot more.

“The language coming out now – ‘This is our country, community, you weren’t born here’ – that is flat out discrimination and racism. It’s happening in society, we’ve seen a spike in hatred towards Muslims because of situations that have happened.

“That hatred goes into the game because we have people from different backgrounds playing together. We find groups are being discriminated against and it’s nothing to do with football.”

Mr Townsend said in some instances young children were being singled out because of their faith.

He described some of the abuse that players of Muslim background have endured, including “mimicking the crashing of aeroplanes” – a reference to 9/11.

He said: “Why should people who are going to handshake before the game have to witness things like that? What tone is that game being played under now? Because it’s obviously being played under a tone where the perpetrators have identified their opposition in a certain way. No game should be played under those circumstances at all.”

Newcastle winger Yasin Ben El-Mhanni said he and his friends were regularly subjected to Islamophobic abuse when he started out.

He said: “When I was playing grassroots level, a lot of my friends and me got comments along the lines of suicide bomber and terrorist, stuff like that. It was quite overwhelming and disturbing. It does affect you mentally on and off the pitch. Sometimes when you get the abuse on the pitch, it affects you in the coming days, even weeks. It was very difficult to experience.”

 Yasin Ben El-Mhanni

Players and coaching staff at non-league club FC Peterborough are all too aware of the rise in Islamophobia. Verbal and physical abuse has now become a regular feature of their weekend fixtures.

“We do get racist comments against our Asian players, we get Islamophobic comments because that seems to be a bit of a trend now,” the club’s operations manager Imtiaz Ali told me.

“We have had players, 11-year-olds, mimic aeroplanes crashing into buildings after our games. We’ve had players mimicking the call to prayer to some of our players. These are some of the things that our 11-12 year old Asian players have been witnessing on an average weekend of football. So it really is disgusting.”

The problem is so bad that the club is losing players.

Mr Ali said: “There are a number of players who have stopped coming because of these kinds of things. There are certainly a number of players who have chosen to not sign up with the club because of these kinds of issues.

“We have had players who have gone on to play for other clubs because they think, if I’m disguised in a group of white players, I won’t necessarily be targeted, so it really is a shame.”

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