It’s been dubbed the “best league in the world” for its exciting games and competitiveness, but it wasn’t the greatest weekend for the Premier League – the most watched football division globally – as several ugly incidents unfolded.
Manchester United players were allegedly racially abused in Saturday evening’s Manchester derby, while a 13-year-old Burnley supporter was ejected at Tottenham and is being investigated by police for an alleged racist gesture aimed at South Korea international Son Heung-Min.
Everton is also investigating claims of alleged homophobic chanting in its home win against Chelsea, while on Sunday, Brighton threw out two visiting Wolves fans for homophobic abuse.
In Manchester on Saturday, Brazilian midfielder Fred and English attacker Jesse Lingard appeared to be targeted with racist actions in the second half near the corner flag, while Fred was also hit by objects thrown from the stands in United’s 2-1 victory at City.
The following day a 41-year-old was arrested by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) on “suspicion of a racially aggravated public order” offense and was released on bail Monday.
Police are present at the Etihad Stadium on match days and stewards, who are employed by City, can potentially call on their help. Police were notified of the incident at 6.55. p.m. Saturday, according to a GMP statement, but Troy Townsend from UK anti-racism body Kick It Out hoped action would have been taken earlier.
“The police got a message at 6.55 p.m. English time that meant that while the game was going on, they got a call about a potential racist incident,” Townsend told CNN Sport. “I would have liked to see the police come down and arrest that fan on the spot.”
Greater Manchester Police declined to comment to CNN, but Superintendent Chris Hill of the City of Manchester Division released a statement saying in part, “Racism of any kind has no place in football or our society and I hope this arrest shows that we are taking this matter extremely seriously.”
Townsend said an opportunity had been lost to set an example. “(The fan) has to be held to account,” said Townsend.
“The second thing more disappointingly was the stewards who were probably a yard, two yards away from that fan, who didn’t as far as I’m concerned, go into action immediately and hold the person responsible or tell someone more senior to them that this fan was making actions and chanting towards the black players,” he said. “That has to be the football club’s responsibility.
“There has to be some accountability of the club because he is a fan of the football club,” Townsend added.
However, Townsend, whose son Andros plays for Crystal Palace, stopped short of calling for heavy sanctions against City.
“You have to hold the football club accountable because he’s standing in their section of the ground but what that accountability is has to be determined by the authorities above,” he said.
City said Saturday on its website that it “operates a zero tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind, and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life.”
The FA told CNN it was still investigating what happened. The Premier League also told CNN that “if people are found to have racially abused Premier League players they deserve to be punished and we will support any action taken by the authorities and the clubs.”
Be it in international matches – notably a recent Euro 2020 qualifier between Bulgaria and England – or club games in Europe, racist incidents seem to be occurring every week.
Just before the weekend, an Italian newspaper used the headline, “Black Friday” on the front page with an accompanying picture of two black Serie A players who formerly lined up for Manchester United, Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling.
One of England’s most capped footballers – former Manchester United star Gary Neville – says the UK must get its house in order and not just criticize other nations when racist incidents occur.
“We judge the Bulgarians, who came in almost like a hatchet job, those 30-40 fans, and were racist towards the England players in that match,” Neville, referring to England’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Sofia in October, said on Sky Sports. Members of England’s national team were targeted with racist chants and Nazi salutes at the match.
“It’s not just happening in Bulgaria, it’s happening in our country, in our league,” added Neville. “We always judge other countries on how they deal with racism.
“The incident in Italy was ridiculous, horrific. But we’re poor at dealing with it ourselves. And to be fair I think Manchester City can be better dealing with it.”