On September 30th, a West Bromwich Albion supporter was handed an eight-week jail sentence for sending racial abuse via Facebook. This possibly marks the first time a jail sentence has been a consequence for online racism, specifically in the football community.
The convicted was Simon Silwood, 50, who sent a racial Facebook message to midfielder Romaine Sawyers. The message was sent after West Brom’s 5-0 defeat to Manchester City back on January 26th. The incriminating phrase Silwood used in his message was “baboon d’Or”.
In court, Sawyers testified his reaction to receiving the message, saying he felt “harassed, alarmed, and distressed.”
“Every time I play football I am now thinking about comments that could be made about me online about the colour of my skin”, Sawyers spoke. “He has shown a complete lack of respect for me, my family and West Bromwich Albion.”
However, Simon Silwood and his defense were quick to try and justify Silwood’s actions. According to them, it was the misuse of auto correct that had changed the word “bafoon” to “baboon”. Silwood also stated his message was meant to be “stupid, not racial.”
But District Judge Briony Clarke had seen enough evidence, and handed Silwood the eight-week jail sentence, along with fines and compensation costs.
Earlier in September, West Brom also gave Silwood a lifetime ban from entering their stadium.
It is not just online racial abuse that is finally receiving justice. Crackdowns on stadium harassment all over Europe are slowly providing more impact.
At the end of last month, Juventus FC handed a supporter of theirs a lifetime ban for yelling racial slurs at AC Milan’s goalkeeper, Mike Maignan. The Juve supporter also received a ban from his local Juventus fan club based in the city of Verona.
Maignan had gone on social media to bring the incident to light. “I am not a ‘victim’ of racism. I am Mike, standing, black and proud. As long as we can give our voice to change things, we will.”
Players Speaking Up
Also last month, Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku pushed for the heads of social media companies to meet with players representing all clubs of the Premier League.
In his interview with CNN Sport, Lukaku called for urgency and had an action plan in place. “The captains of every team, and four or five players, like the big personalities of every team, should have a meeting with the CEOs of Instagram and governments and the FA and the PFA, and we should just sit around the table and have a big meeting about it.”
The striker himself has often been targeted by online racial abuse, and is tired of seeing both fellow teammates and women athletes receive the same treatment.
“At the end of the day, football should be an enjoyable game. You cannot kill the game by discrimination. That should never happen.”
The action we have seen recently from players, clubs, and finally now, the legal system, in terms of combating racism is slowly gaining momentum. But while this is a great start, there is still much work that needs to be done.
Football is a beautiful sport, a sport that should be inclusive for everyone.
How can all leagues across Europe, both big and small, step up more to educate their fan bases and to start challenging old ways that should no longer be accepted?
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