Leading Premier League stars have backed a 24-hour social media boycott in protest at an escalation of incidents of racial abuse online.
The campaign launched by the Professional Footballers’ Association will urge players to stay off social media from 0900 on Friday morning after posting the hashtag #Enough.
The PFA say it is intended as a show of solidarity with players who have been targeted, as well as a demand to social media organisations and the game’s authorities that more needs to be done.
Simone Pound, Head of Equalities at the PFA, said: “Football has the power to do so much good in the world. We must always try to use the sport’s popularity and influence to make positive change.
“Over the last few months we have seen a rise in appalling instances of racist abuse at grounds around the world, and on social media. We cannot stand by while too little is done to address this unacceptable behaviour.
“The PFA has always been at the forefront of tackling racism and we are reaffirming our commitment to all of our members. We will do all we can to put an end to the abuse players face on the pitch and online.”
Manchester United defender Chris Smalling has given his strong backing to the campaign after he was abused on Twitter after his side’s Champions League defeat in Barcelona this week.
Smalling joins a lengthening list of players, also including Mohamed Salah, Danny Welbeck, Raheem Sterling, Michy Batshuayi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Moussa Sissoko, who have received abuse over the same platform in recent years.
Smalling said: “Throughout my career I have developed a thick skin against verbal abuse, justifying it as just ‘part of the game’ but the time has come for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to consider regulating their channels, taking responsibility for protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex or income.
“I understand that I am in an extremely privileged position and I am deeply thankful for that but, at the end of the day, we are all human.
“As a patron of a youth education charity it is my duty to use my platform as a voice for all, regardless of background. We have to take a greater stand against discrimination of all kinds.”
Concern is mounting over racism in football after a spate of attacks on players both on social media and in and around stadiums.
England’s black players were subjected to repeated chants during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro last month, while Tottenham defender Danny Rose revealed recently he has “had enough” and “can’t wait” to quit the game.
Rose said: “When I said that I can’t wait to see the back of football, it is because of the racism that I, and many other players, have been subjected to our entire careers.
“Football has a problem with racism.
“I don’t want any future players to go through what I’ve been through in my career.
“Collectively, we are simply not willing to stand by while too little is done by football authorities and social media companies to protect players from this disgusting abuse.”
World governing body FIFA gave its backing to the campaign, saying in a statement on Twitter: “We support the initiative of the @PFA – FIFA is fully engaged in combating racism and discrimination, as clearly expressed by our President (Gianni Infantino) last week. FIFA is also preparing a concrete action with worldwide impact that will launch a strong campaign against discrimination.”
World players’ union FIFPro added its support too, tweeting: “Players are subjected to all kinds of hate speech on social media. #Racism is one of the ugliest forms.
“We stand with the @PFA, player associations and football players around the world.”
In response, a Twitter spokesperson said: “Our abusive behaviour policy prohibits action which attempts to harass, intimidate or silence another person’s voice and we take strong enforcement action if violations are found.
“Progress in this space is tough, but we are deeply committed to improving the health of the conversation on the platform.
“To this end, we are now suspending 3 times more abusive accounts within 24 hours after receiving a report than this time last year. We’ll continue building on this work to prioritise the safety of our users.”