I totally agree that we need much more serious consequences for racism and antisemitism where it is displayed in football grounds, and the international football associations have a real role to play in delivering that outcome.
I want to highlight some of the positive work that is underway to tackle the kinds of problems I have spoken about. For example, in January 2018, Chelsea football club announced a “Say No To Antisemitism” campaign to raise awareness and educate their players, staff, fans and the wider community about antisemitism in football. In January 2020, it became the first club to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. In December that year, the English Premier League also adopted that definition, and many clubs followed suit. The English Football League and the Football Association did so on Holocaust Memorial Day 2021. In February 2021, Kick It Out, the game’s leading anti-racism body, working with Lord Mann, prepared an action plan to combat antisemitism, which it launched at training workshops in London and Manchester.
This February saw another important development, this time at Tottenham. That brings me to the Y-word. I appreciate that it is a contested term, but there can be no doubt that it is widely viewed as offensive and racist—it is a term of abuse. Since the 1970s, I understand, it has featured in chants by Spurs supporters. The club has indicated that it was initially used as a response to a lack of action taken in relation to antisemitism directed at Spurs fans, so some supporters have historically used the word as a means of taking ownership of a term routinely used to insult the club’s sizeable Jewish following. However, Jewish groups have described it as antisemitic, whatever the context. Its inclusion in Tottenham chants is therefore offensive in itself, and can also trigger antisemitic responses, with consequent harms. As such, following a review of the issue, the club stated that
“it is time to move on from associating this term with our Club.”
It went on to say:
“The Club already refrains from engaging with any social media handle or bio that contains the Y-word and we do not permit it being printed on shirts in any official retail outlets or used in any official Club context”,
to which my response would be, “About time too.” I find it somewhat shocking that there could ever have been any question of that term appearing on shirts, or in official retail outlets.
While these various initiatives to root out antisemitism in football are very much to be welcomed, there is clearly much more to be done. The professional game needs to take this issue much more seriously than it does currently. It needs to deploy far more resources to combating antisemitism, holding those responsible for it to account, and making it clear to its supporters that antisemitism is wholly unacceptable. That must include programmes aimed at ensuring supporters understand the issue better and are made aware of the hurt and harm caused by antisemitism. Urgent action is needed to crack down on the online manifestation of football-related anti-Jewish racism.
The Football (Offences) Act 1991 made racist chanting that is
“threatening, abusive or insulting to a person”
an offence when committed within football grounds. The police need to take action when those offences are committed. They need to take antisemitic crime in the football arena much more seriously than they do at the moment, and there needs to be enforcement against this kind of behaviour online, as well. In July last year, the Government announced that football banning orders would be extended to cover racist attacks on footballers on social media, meaning online trolls could potentially be excluded from grounds for up to 10 years. The Prime Minister has called on tech companies to step up and take responsibility for what they publish.
The Online Safety Bill is now on its way through Parliament. This world-leading piece of legislation will require the big tech firms to do more to tackle harmful abuse posted on their platforms, both by preventing it in the first place and by taking it down when it appears. Under their new duty of care to users, companies will have to tackle antisemitism and racism on their platforms much more effectively than they do today. Platforms will need to have appropriate systems and processes in place to stop criminals using their services to spread hate, and they will need to respond more quickly than they do currently if someone posts racist comments, whether words, images, emojis or videos.
Companies that fail in this duty of care could face big fines of up to 10% of their global turnover. For major social media operators, that could amount to billions of pounds. I urge the Minister to ensure that the legislation is effective in combating antisemitism online. In particular, big tech companies must be required to address the risk that algorithmic recommendation tools and hashtags can amplify antisemitic and other racist content. Keeping people safe online and dealing with the torrent of hatred to which so many are subjected is one of the defining challenges of our time. The Government must rise to that challenge.
In conclusion, I have campaigned against antisemitism for many years. One of my first ever visits to this Parliament was as a student in the late 1980s, when I attended a lobby to call for Jewish refuseniks to be permitted to leave the Soviet Union where they were subject to discrimination and injustice, and to seek to persuade the Foreign Office to raise that with the Soviet leaders. I was also one of the co-authors of the 2006 report of the all-party inquiry into antisemitism. That ground breaking piece of work led to real change, including an obligation on all police forces to collect statistics on antisemitic crime.
I took part in both the recent debates on antisemitism in the House and the two public protests in Parliament Square denouncing the incidents of anti-Jewish racism in Labour. I find it deeply disturbing that this toxic prejudice is still present in our society. It is distressing that that form of racism is directed against a community for which I have such a high regard and which plays a hugely positive role among all the other communities in the diverse constituency of Chipping Barnet, which I am very proud to represent.
Antisemitism is a poison that dates back millennia. Millions have lost their lives to that vicious hatred over the centuries, culminating in the horrors of the Holocaust and industrialised killing. Every year on Holocaust Remembrance Day we make a commitment never to forget what happened and to remain always vigilant against antisemitism and racism.
Just this afternoon, I was at a meeting of the Holocaust Memorial APPG and we heard chilling testimony from a holocaust survivor, my constituent Mala Tribich. We must extend that vigilance to the beautiful game. It is hard to think of another pastime that generates such emotion in its followers. There is a visceral connection between fans and clubs, but no emotional connection justifies racist hatred and abuse of others. Let the message go out from this House today that antisemitism has no place in English football. It will not be tolerated and those responsible for it will be brought to justice.