‘Dock points for soccer antisemitism’

Communal leaders and football bosses have welcomed a new zero-tolerance policy against fans who engage in antisemitic or Islamophobic abuse.

The dramatic initiative — which includes the possibility of English clubs being docked points — came as the FA, the Metropolitan Police, the Board of Deputies and the National Association of Muslim Police attended football’s first faith summit aimed at tackling racism on the terraces and near grounds.

At the summit, held in West London and hosted by BBC presenter Ray Stubbs, the suggestion that clubs should have points docked if their fans indulge in racist abuse was made by several participants.

Simon Johnson, the FA’s director of corporate affairs told the summit: “The FA focuses on ensuring all forms of discrimination are eradicated from the game, but I am not convinced that each club is doing as much as it can. There is no lack of willingness, but perhaps a lack of experience dealing with the problem.

“We need a coalition of managers, players and fans to get the message across that racism is unacceptable. Quite simply, it is pure discrimination and hatred.”

Maintaining that there were areas where the FA could improve, such as “being better at anticipating problems”, Mr Johnson continued: “Steward training must also improve. Stewards must not dismiss a complaint as a laugh or banter. I know the FA must work harder to deal with the problem robustly so supporters become confident that it will be dealt with.”

Chris Walley, the FA’s head of stadia and safety, disclosed that 3,000 banning orders had been imposed on fans in the UK. The individuals are subject to a minimum ban of three years from travelling to Europe for club or country. Commenting on the recent case of an Arsenal fan convicted of antisemitic chanting at Barnet, Mr Walley admitted that the FA were unhappy with the fine alone and would be contacting Arsenal to insist he should be banned from the Emirates Stadium.

Alex Goldberg of the Board of Deputies told delegates: “One of the problems is some people do not recognise that antisemitism is a form of abuse. There is no such thing as ‘banter’. It is abuse, and this action plan is a long time coming.There should be more effective mechanisms to deal with antisemitism and Islamophobia and we want strict liability, with clubs being held responsible for the actions of supporters.”

Commenting on Spurs’ “Yids” chant, he declared: “It is used as a badge of pride among Tottenham supporters, but for Holocaust survivors, it is one of the deepest forms of insults.”

He said the situation at West Ham was “particularly bad”, adding: “We know far-right groups are using lower-league clubs to organise violence and intimidation against religious and ethnic minorities.”

John Mann MP, head of the parliamentary committee on antisemitism, told the conference: “Our role is to get antisemitism in football recognised as a form of racism, of equal importance to that of colour. The FA has taken a fantastic lead, but there is room for improvement.”

Commander Bob Broadhurst of the Metropolitan Police told delegates: “We know that, as football is a global game, if we get things right in the football world, then society will improve.”

The FA’s Lucy Faulkner told the summit: “We now have a five-point action plan to look at how stewards manage incidents, the way grounds are policed, how the FA monitors incidents, strengthening reporting mechanisms and the role of referees. I am optimistic that we can make a difference.”

Speaking after the summit, she said: “We can deduct points now, but if we were to do it, it would have to be for something pretty extreme. We want to work with clubs to do as much as we can to improve the situation. Sanctions are the last thing we want to put in place.”

Speaking to the JC after the summit, Martin Berliner, chief executive of Maccabi GB, said: “I still want a dedicated campaign tackling antisemitism in sport. The FA’s action plan is welcome but must be financed by clubs and the FA.”

Mr Berliner, who this week led another meeting to tackle antisemitism in the game, said: “It is clearly a long road and even though everyone has talked the talk I will be interested to see if they can walk the walk.”

    Last updated: 2:25pm, June 8 2008