Chelsea Women and England defender Anita Asante has backed Raheem Sterling’s call for greater sanctions for racism and more diversity in senior positions within the national game.
In an article in The Times newspaper on Tuesday, Sterling wrote “the people who run the game are doing nowhere near enough to solve the problem” of racism in football “and that’s not good enough”.
The Manchester City star suggested there should be an automatic nine-point deduction for racist abuse at games and the clubs involved should be also forced to play three games behind closed doors, rather than the current starting point of fines and partial stadium closures.
“It sounds harsh, but which fan will risk racist behaviour if it might relegate their team or ruin their title bid?” wrote Sterling, while also calling for more black, Asian and minority ethnic faces in boardrooms and dugouts and a stronger response to discrimination by the media and sponsors.
Asante, who has been capped 70 times by England, has been working with Amnesty International for several years and is currently promoting the human rights organisation’s ‘Football Welcomes’ initiative to celebrate the contribution refugees have made to the game.
Speaking to Press Association Sport, Asante praised Sterling for “(using his) platform as a role model to millions to say he doesn’t tolerate racism and nobody else should either”.
Asked if she agreed with his call for points to be deducted from clubs following racist incidents, the 33-year-old Londoner said: “We should definitely consider stronger sanctions because that is the only way people are going to take this more seriously.”
This season has seen a spate of racist incidents at home and abroad, with Sterling himself allegedly abused at Chelsea on club duty and in Montenegro while playing for England. There has also been an increase in reports of discriminatory abuse in grassroots football and on social media.
For Asante, a large part of the problem is the lack of diversity in positions of authority.
“Too many voices are not being heard at the moment and that is why we are struggling to deal with this issue,” she said.
“We need the top of the game to be more representative because the people who are trying to deal with this problem don’t really feel it or understand it.
“What happens on social media is a good example because just removing offensive tweets is the very least we can do – the social media companies and football authorities should be reporting those people to the police because it is a serious offence.
“Racism needs to be considered as a serious offence because until we do we’ll just stay on this plane where things keep happening but nobody seems to know what to do about it.”
The politics and English graduate, however, also believes the issues go beyond football.
“We are living through a climate of divisive rhetoric and we can see and hear that in politics and in various forms of media – football’s problems are just a small reflection of what is happening in wider society,” she said.
Asante believes campaigns such as Amnesty’s show that the majority of football fans want their clubs to be “open, responsible and welcoming places”.
Now in its third year, Football Welcomes will involve more than 160 British clubs this weekend, a near-threefold increase on the number that took part last year.
Marking the anniversary of the arrival of a group of child refugees from the Spanish Civil War in 1937, six of whom went on to play professional football in England, the campaign will see clubs distribute free tickets to refugees and people seeking asylum, put on player visits, stadium tours and matches in their communities.
Ahead of the weekend, Amnesty International has released a survey which shows two out of five fans believe there has been an increase in racism and more than a third feel there had also been more xenophobia in the game over the last three years.