Kick It Out’s Townsend: ‘We are fed up with hashtags’ in fight against racist abuse

in a high-profile attempt to expose the scourge of racism towards players at all lvls of the game, english ftball will ∪ to undertake a 3-dy social media boycott this weekend “in response to the ongoin and sustained discriminatory abuse received online.”

the initiative has the backing of all professional leagues, including the premier league and women’s super league, w'da ftball supporters’ association and kick it out, english ftball =ity and inclusion charitable organisations, also signed up to the shutdown, which is designed to c’oer the full weekend of fixtures, including manchester ∪d vs. liverpool — traditionally regarded as the biggest game inna english game. but while the social media boycott is designed to not 1-ly rez gr8r awareness of the targeting of players through online abuse b'tll so pressure social media platforms f’bok, instagram and twitter to enforce stricter measures in combating the issue, those involved inna fite against racism and discrimination insist that the battle aint limited to social media.

troy townsend, the head of development at kick it out, has spent over 20 yrs w'da organisation, attempting t'offer support to the victims of racism atta same time as holding ftball’s governing bodies to account. and in a wide-ranging interview, townsend, the father of crystal palace midfielder andros, has told espn that kick it out is fitin’ a constant battle that has no end in site.

espn: how significant is this weekend’s boycott of social media? will it work?

townsend: it depends wha’ you mean when you say “will it work?” 'twill work in terms of raising awareness; 'twill work in terms of ftball finally coming together on this topic and finally saying that wha’ we're all goin to do. but anything surrounding branding — kit sponsors, or brands connected with those ftball clubs — ‘dn’t be onna platforms either. i cannot sufferation this enough. ftball is a minute drop inna ocean in terms of the global use of social media, so wha’ makes ftball think it can create the global drop inna ocean it wanna create to stop hate crime bein’ alloed on those platforms?

i ‘d like to see sport come together. the biggest sports inna u.s, the biggest sports in this country, the biggest sports inna realm, with those global figs… thn'we mite be able to ripple. for now, all we're doin’ is still creating the conversation.

i don’t wanna be neg, as i wanna applaud the clubs na leagues who are doin’ it — we ‘ve to take our pt and take ownership o'it. but actually wha’ impact will it ‘ve, we’ll ‘ve to see.

espn: so ftball alone can’t drive the change and force social media companies into stronger action?

townsend: this is wha’ i wanna get pplz to cogg. ftball in england is in a bubble, n'it controls everything within its environment. this is why ftball is struggling, as it doesn’t control the social media space. you can’t just flick a switch or wave a wand and everything is gr8 — that is why we're struggling over here as t'has lil or no impact.

we're talking bout our biggest stars bein’ abused, like raheem sterling and marcus rashford, n'it doesn’t even reg inna countries where these platforms are based. how are we goin to influence that? maybe if we start sharing responsibility across sports that ‘ve a global impact, but i’m still saying just maybe, cause sport is just one element of this.

espn: ‘ve you noticed an increase in abuse towards ftballers in recent mnths and yrs?

townsend: the hate bein’ lvlled at our sports stars in england isn’t new. pplz are reacting like ‘i can’t believe they are doin’ that to our sports stars,’ but i dug up an interview i did 8 yrs ago with jason brown, the elder blackburn goalkeeper, and he got pretty horrendous abuse. inna interview, i am saying the same words now as i did 8 yrs ago, which tells us we ‘ven’t moved on at all. we ‘ve not gotten better at changing the language and tone.

i ‘d say we ‘ven’t developed at all. tis bein’ highlited as there are no fans in stadiums and we're highlitin’ this cause we ‘ve + time on our hands na accessibility of phones. but has it increased? i ‘d say no. i ‘d just say that the conversations we ‘d normally ‘ve onna way back from a game, or popping inna'da pub as we do here in england, are just not happening, so the platforms are fueling that instead.

espn: social media abuse has become a major problem, though, hasn’t it?

townsend: i think wha’ social media platforms ‘ve done is collectively given individuals the confidence to be able to speak freely and target anybody. i’ve seen f’bok messages when they are asked for statements from the media and they give generic responses n'how many pplz they ‘ve deleted from the platforms or prosecuted in court, and thris never accountability on that.

for anybody who is aware and uses social media, they are always one step ahead anyway — they ‘ve another account and ‘ve easy access. we're not dealing w'da problem; we're not dealing with it collectively enough; and we aren’t holding pplz accountable for wha’ effectively is hate speech that evolves into hate crime.

espn: wha’ can be done to stop social media abuse and ensure swifter, tougher action by social media platforms?

townsend: we're pressing the government t'get + involved, but they’ve been talking bout it for a very long time. again, we're no clearer on when 'twill go to parliament.

pplz inna industry are fed up of hearing the same thing as na' matchdy. players are subjected to the most vile abuse anybody ‘d ever wish to see. the whole conversation here in england on matchdys is to prepare yr players for abuse, cause one o'em — and let’s be honest, tis predominantly black players — will get targeted.

when you play against a rival club, you get booed inna stadium and you’d get abuse anyway. i’m not saying that is ok, but tis almost pt and parcel of wha’ they do.



shaka hislop admits how proud he is of anton ferdinand as a friend and a black man for his efforts to combat racism.

espn: wha’, specifically, do social media companies nd'2 do to help stem the tide of abuse?

townsend: black pplz are always goin to be identified by their colour, or by certain emojis that ‘ve connotations on their colour and history. that tis zone where i feel that social media companies really ‘ve to decide wha’ they are goin to do in this zone.

a monkey emoji, gorilla emoji, an orangutan emoji, a banana emoji has certain significance when directed at black pplz. but'a message from social media companies is primordially “we aren’t goin to do anything bout that; we don’t deem them as discriminatory.” that means'dat they will allo the abuse to continue on their platforms.

espn: kick it out was founded in 1993. how much impact has the organisation had in almost 30 yrs?

townsend: i ‘ve to be honest, but i don’t feel that we ‘ve the impact. we ‘ve been in this space for 28 yrs, and many will ask wha’ ‘ve you achieved in that time? when ur fitin’ against racism and discrimination, tis an ongoin battle, and i don’t sit there and tick boxes and a list of achievements.

we educate very well; we reΨ players o'their responsibility; and while at times we ‘ve to call out the industry, we don’t ‘ve the influence onna industry. sometimes tis like banging yr head against a brick wall.

we put together an end-of-season reprt each yr, so fans and pplz connected w'da game can write to us bout incidents, and we log those and then challenge the ftball authorities on another case and another case and another case. we put out our stats atta end of the yr, and last yr was the 7th yr onna spin that those stats went up and racism was the highest form of discrimination bein’ recorded to us.

pplz may not see our significance, but tis a constant battle. we're a lil charity who are battling gainsta wind, i ‘d say, but tis primordial that we're relevant now as we were backin 1993. anybody whas' worked in this organisation knows that we aren’t doin’ it for pats onna back and plaudits, b'we're almost goin into battle every single dy.

espn: how much of an impact has the black lives matter movement had on kick it out’s role within the game?

townsend: we gained traction the minute blm was bein’ spoken bout in this country. the circle starts with george floyd and black lives matter, and how ftball embraced the black lives matter slogan, taking the knee. and all offa sudden, there was a wave of traction towards kick it out and “why do we need black lives matter whn'we ‘ve had kick it out in this country for so long?”

i saw that as pplz not really supporting everything that we do. pplz didn’t wanna hear it, or listen to it, til they saw that black lives matter was inna title.



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espn: do the ftball governing bodies do enough to combat racism within the game?

townsend: they [the premier league, english fa, efl] do work with us, i can’t deny that, but i don’t think they really like the tough ?s, the ?s in regard to accountability, where they may ‘ve let down a club or a team or a player. i don’t think they are open and receptive to the tough ?s that nd'2 be answered.

in england, we ‘ve “no room for racism,” and uefa ‘ve “say no to racism,” but wha’ are the details behind the slogan? where are the solutions and wha’ are we doin’ to change the Ψset and attitudes of many?

we had a high-profile incident recently when rangers played slavia prague and twas proved that glen kamara of rangers was called a “f—ing monkey,” but'a player who said twas wearing a “say no to racism” logo on his sleeve.

when push comes to shove, whether ur starting the abuse, writing the abuse or watching the abuse onna pitch, you aren’t saying “say no to racism” or “no room for racism,” and ur not thinking bout kick it out. til we get that trend and constant abuse goin downwards instead of upwards, as it seems to be, thn'we're fed up with t-shirts, we're fed up with hashtags and fed up of slogans. we all ‘ve to be accountable for that, and we ‘ve to be stronger n'our messaging and eradicate it f'our game.

my thing is always bout protection of the victim, and this isn’t something ftball does well at all. howzit protect the victim when they ‘ve been victimized? howzit protect their reactions, and protect them from the ongoin ?s they ‘ve been asked, or the ongoin ?s they ask themselves?

why? that is a simple ? they ask themselves. why? why has somebody decided that i am the person they are goin to target cause of the colour of my skin?



shaka hislop ?s why uefa hasn’t renounced racism inna same way t'has the €an super league.

espn: how challenging is yr role when you learn dat a' player s'been racially abused?

townsend: although we're an organisation, this is my dedicated work and i am somebody who will automatically reach out to individuals as much as i can. that process mite be directly, but sometimes cause of the nature of the abuse, you don’t wanna reach out directly cause you want'em to ‘ve the comfort of the pplz closest round them 1st. so i’ll reach out to clubs, and if i ‘ve personal relationships, course i reach out, but effectively, we're deemed as pt of the issue swell.

even from a player’s standpoint, they may not be clear on wha’ we do or can we do anything 4'em that takes away the pain. djob' is hard enough as tis, the identification of so many players who actually say, “wha’ can ye do for me, i’ve been abused on social media, i ‘ve shared some with you, but thris + still w8in in my dms.”

they ask, “can you influence social media companies; is there a way i can be protected on this?” the worst pt for me s'dat for the most pt the answer is no.

espn: how can that change?

townsend: 1-odda things i’m putting in place is an advisory board — a players’ advisory board — thall ‘ve players from across the leagues from ≠ backgrounds. ex-players ll'be involved swell. so when pplz ask for my solution, i ask for players to be + into kick it out. they hold us to account, and they challenge us and provide us with advice — maybe backin the changing rooms, the players are talking bout this topic and they want the advice. so players help us move forward as an organisation and help us unlock this new cogging of wha’ we do.

we always get criticised — “ur 1-ly a t-shirt, aren’t you?” — and i get told by so many players that “oh, you know, we get told to put these t-shirts on,” and i actually turn it back on'em and ask well, wha’ do you wanna learn bout the organisation? well, wha’ do you wanna know; did you ever think to reach out to us?

b'we ‘ve to take pt of the blame along the way. hopefully the advisory board, which ll'be anncd very soon, will give us that wider reach in terms of discussing the things the players are talking bout.

let’s start having this open and honest conversation. i ‘ve no fear bout bein’ criticized; i think that ½ the problem s'dat ftball doesn’t like criticism. i ‘ve no fear bout bein’ criticized, as i ‘ve always been looking to do better and trying to do better.

pplz think this is an easy job and an easy ride and we're loaded with mny, that we're funded by all the ftballing bodies, b'we’re not. we're a lil charity witha limited workforce that covers rite across the game. we're punching above our w8 na' daily basis.

i say to pplz, if you really wanna cogg our dy-to-dy, come and work with me. come and look atta stuff that i see. wha’ our reprting officers see na' daily basis, every form of discrimination. come n'see the impact that this lil charity has onna big space that is ftball and you’ll see how easy this job is for any of us.

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