One in four ethnic minority football fans have been racially abused on social media

Connor IbbetsonData Journalist
August 25, 2021, 9:32 AM UTC

Nearly half have seen racial abuse directed at players online

Twitter recently announced that it removed nearly 2,000 racist tweets during the Euro 2020 final and in days following. Twitter’s investigation into the abuse also pinpointed the UK as the biggest single source of the abuse directed at the England squad.

Following this, new YouGov research for Sky Sports News explores the experience of ethnic minority football fans online, and whether they think racial abuse on social media is fuelling abuse in real life.  

How many football fans have seen racial abuse directed at players online?

In the days after the Euro 2020 final, England Manager Gareth Southgate described the racial abuse suffered by some members of the squad as “unforgivable”, with 11 people arrested so far in connection.

Twitter claims that only 2% of the abusive tweets garnered more than 1,000 views meaning most did not gather much traction. However, YouGov research shows that approaching half of ethnic minority fans (47%) have seen witnessed racism directed at players on social media. This includes three in ten fans who say they’ve witnessed it on multiple occasions.

Among black football fans, 51% have witnessed racial abuse of players, including 37% who have seen it multiple times. This is compared to 29% of white football fans who say they have witnessed abuse directed at players online, with only 14% witnessing it more than once or twice.

Further to this, black football fans are more likely to say they would report racial abuse directed at players (58%) they see on social media, compared to 43% of white football fans.

How many football fans have personally experienced racial abuse online?

Racial abuse is not limited to the players themselves, however. Our research finds that ethnic minority football fans are five times as likely as white fans to have been personally racially abused when discussing football on social media.

A quarter (25%) of ethnic minority fans say this has happened to them, including one in ten (10%) who have been abused multiple times. Among more active football fans, such as those who have attended a game in person every year, the proportion reporting they were the target of racism online rises to two in five (42%).

This compares to only 5% of white football fans who consider themselves to have been the target of racial abuse.

Fans of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage are the most likely to have been the target of such abuse (34%), compared to 23% of black fans, and the same proportion of Indian football fans (23%).

Just over half (57%) of ethnic minority fans say they would be likely to report abuse directed at them, with three in ten (30%) saying they would not do so. Two in five (42%) white football fans say they would report racial abuse they received on social media.

Does racial abuse on social media affect racism in real life?

Earlier this year, it was suggested that ending online anonymity could be the key to curtailing racial abuse online. However, in their blog post, Twitter said that 99% of the accounts responsible for racism directed at the England squad were not anonymised.

With those posting racial abuse online not concerned with hiding their identity, perhaps it should come as no surprise that our research among ethnic minority fans highlights a link between the scale of abuse online and in real life in football stadiums.

Overall, 46% of ethnic minority fans say that racism on social media has increased the amount of racist abuse in stadiums. This includes 41% of ethnic minority fans who have attended a football stadium at least once a year. However, 30% of ethnic minority fans say abuse online has made little difference to the abuse in stadiums, and 6% say it has decreased.

Indian football fans are the most likely to paint a link between online and real-life racism, at 54%, compared to 45% of those from a Pakistani and Bangladeshi background, and 43% of black fans.

The majority of ethnic minority fans (57%) believe that reducing or even eradicating abuse online would reduce racial abuse in football stadiums – including 23% who think it would significantly reduce racial abuse in real life. Some 21% think it would make little difference to the amount of racial abuse in stadiums, however.

Fans from Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds (63%) and Indian fans (61%) are the most likely to say that reducing racial abuse on social media would have a positive impact in reducing racism in stadiums. This is compared to around half (52%) of black football fans.

White football fans are the least likely to think that reducing abuse online will reduce abuse in stadiums (39%) with a similar proportion of white fans thinking it will make no real difference (34%). 

See full results ethnic minority fans here, and for white football fans here