The Word on Football’s Social Media Boycott; Socially Conscious Clubs Enjoying Reputation Boost & Significance of ESL Saga

On Monday the FA, Premier League, EFL & anti-racism groups announced a collaborative initiative to boycott all social media platforms from Friday to Monday, in what the Premier League called a ‘response to the ongoing and sustained discriminatory abuse received online by players and many others connected to football.’

Caption: The boycott was announced on Monday

This weekend is a decisive one in our domestic leagues, with promotion, relegation and European races at pivotal junctures, which makes the boycott even more significant, particularly in the time frame when clubs typically communicate most frequently, on a match day.

Just a couple of weeks ago I discussed the momentum of respective boycotts from Thierry Henry, Swansea City, Birmingham City and Glasgow Rangers and it seems as though the governing bodies and clubs within football have come to a similar conclusion.

From a reputational perspective but also a moral one, it was only a matter of time before Swansea’s precedence was followed by the rest of football in making a stand and enforcing change from the various social media platforms, backing up the Premier League’s No Room for Racism messaging and the taking of the knee with meaningful action.

My obvious disgust and cynicism towards the ESL saga, that is still very much at the forefront of everyone’s mind, has subsided a little, as even sports broadcasters like Talksport have been getting involved in a much needed social media abstention, importantly over a defining weekend in the domestic season.

Caption: TalkSport announced their participation in the boycott on Wednesday morning

What I will be examining this week, is just how the example of Thierry Henry, Swansea and even Patrick Bamford’s comments last week have impacted the movement, the desired outcome and the tangible impact of the English football community makes when working together, particularly in the aftermath of the so-called ‘elite’ six ditching their ESL less than 48 hours following its announcement.

Setting an Example

Thierry Henry was the first high-profile figure in football to disable his social media accounts over a month ago, with racist abuse prominent on the platforms and very little done by their hierachy to quash it.

Henry was inducted into the inaugural Premier League Hall of Fame this week, but the microscope has very much been on the precedence he has set and arguably inspired the first clubs to get involved in a boycott, showing that decisive action was imperative.

Photo by Ronnie Mac (Creative Commons License)

Caption: Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was one of the first high-profile figures to boycott social media

Swansea City, who themselves had three players targeted by racist abuse online, boycotted social media for a fortnight this month, joined by Birmingham City and Glasgow Rangers shortly after to follow the lead of Thierry Henry and finally substantiate symbolic gestures with proper action.

The commercial losses from a lack of social media activity seemed to be the reason others weren’t quick to replicate those clubs, but the goodwill generated by the stand they have taken more than makes up for it and they will be applauded by their own supporters, particularly from BAME backgrounds, for standing on the right side of history.

Whats ESL got to do with it?

I bet you’re probably sick of hearing about the European Super League aren’t you? Well until those involved are hit with points deductions and fines, then I probably won’t stop talking about it.

There is however, relevance here to the social media boycott and links to be drawn to collective movements in football whether it be societal , purely sporting or both.

The likelihood is that the exact timing of the boycott was decided before the ESL revelations last week, but there are certainly similarities and hope to be taken from the power football showed when clubs and governing bodies worked together to defeat the entitled few for the benefit of the many.

Hopefully the collective strength of the footballing world in showing action and message of continuity against ineffective social media policing, can go someway to achieving a similarly positive result.

And Patrick Bamford…?

Patrick Bamford gave a superb interview following last Monday’s match against want-away Liverpool, saying: ‘It’s amazing the amount of uproar that comes into the game when someone’s pocket is being hurt. It’s a shame it’s not like this with everything that’s going wrong in the game like racism.’

The Leeds forward was spot on and highlighted UEFA’s ineptitude when dealing with racism, compared to their impassioned campaign to stop a breakaway competition that would have huge financial ramifications for the governing body.

Recently, Slavia Prague defender Ondrej Kudela who was found guilty of racially abusing Rangers’ Glen Kamara, was only banned for ten matches and Bulgaria were ordered to play just one match behind closed doors as punishment for horrific racist abuse directed at England players from the stands in a Euro 2020 qualifier in November 2019

The leniency of UEFA’s punishments for racist abuse pale in comparison to those threatening their revenue streams, which Bamford was quite right to point out and makes a mockery of their No to Racism campaign.

Photo from Fare Network: Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Caption: UEFA have talked a good game but punishments to clubs or fans who perpetrate racist abuse have been alarmingly lenient

Bamford’s interview was lauded by fans, his candidness resonating far more than any media trained sportsman in the world could.

Like UEFA, the Premier League also met the ESL plans with anger. So did Bamford’s comments and the acclaim they received, nudge the English football institutions to treat the racist abuse online, albeit very delayed, with the same energy?

So whilst FA, Premier League & UEFA led anti-racism campaigns are welcomed, people want to see real action being taken, which hopefully this weekend’s social media boycott can prompt, through proper safeguarding and accountability for abusers.

This collective effort and message from the football community has already inspired other sporting bodies, such as the ECB, to join this weekends boycott, which shows the strength of the message and what can be achieved when football comes together. Hopefully this is mirrors the ESL debacle, in forcing the social media bosses to act.

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