Brexit is a factor in the “alarming” number of recent incidents of racism and other forms of discrimination in the game, according to a leading anti-discrimination campaigner.
In the wake of the Islamophobic abuse directed at Liverpool striker Mohamed Salah at West Ham, Piara Powar, the executive director of the Fare Network, says shutting stadiums may be the logical next step to combat the abuse.
The Salah incident, which led Hammers boss Manuel Pellegrini to demand a life ban for the culprits, follows allegations of discriminatory chanting by Chelsea and Millwall supporters in recent months.
And on Wednesday night Brighton boss Chris Hughton blasted derogatory chanting towards Gaetan Bong, which appeared to arise from previous, and ultimately unproven, racism allegations made by the Seagulls defender.
West Ham said in a statement on Thursday that they had passed their evidence to the Metropolitan Police and added: “The club is unequivocal in its stance – such abuse will not be tolerated. There is no place or excuse for this kind of behaviour.”
Powar told Press Association Sport: “The number and frequency of recent incidents in England is quite alarming.
“Football seems to have a rump of fans who have trouble accepting the diversity of our country.
“I also think it points to the divisions that have opened up in the UK since Brexit.
“Some fans think they have licence to express publicly what they think privately – to give air to their prejudices and world view in public spaces such as football stadiums.”
Powar is not convinced the game’s authorities have clamped down hard enough on the rising trend of discriminatory activity, and has called on the Football Association in particular to take tougher measures.
“I think the FA must get a grip on the problem,” added Powar.
“They do a lot of good work but they should use the powers they have to close stadiums and ban and fine clubs. The FA regulations allow for it but these measures are rarely used.”
The FA is currently investigating claims that Millwall supporters were engaged in racist chanting during their 3-2 FA Cup win over Everton at the Den last month.
Meanwhile, UEFA is investigating incidents during Chelsea’s Europa League game against Vidi which, if proven, could lead to the partial closure of Stamford Bridge for their next home match.
Football Association chairman Greg Clarke admits the authorities have to get better at singling out and removing racists from the game.
“I think there is a problem in society globally with people feeling empowered to say things to women, or black people, or gay people, or the LGBT community at large,” he said.
“And that’s spilling over into society. Now that’s one in 10,000 or one in 100,000 people.
“That’s not the majority of fans or the majority of referees or majority of anybody else but but we need to get good at singling out anyone who crosses the boundaries and taking them out of the game.”
Clarke accepts it is a complex issue – especially when talking about potential closures of parts of stadia – but what is paramount is protecting people, whether they are players, officials or spectators.
He added: “It’s something I’ve had a lot of meetings about, with other stakeholders and the government, over the past few months.
“We need to make sure that people who play the game, people who watch the game, people who referee the game are all safe from abuse and violence and threats.
“We’re coming up with a cohesive approach between stakeholders and between government on how we can improve it.
“Anybody who has a set of rules that thinks they can’t be improved has to look hard at themselves and we’re working with everybody to try to find ways we can improve things.”