Kick It Out: inviting fans to be snitches

A racist-reporting app is designed to swamp football with grasses.

Duleep Allirajah

Topics Politics

According to Kick It Out, there has been a 70 per cent rise in reports of discriminatory abuse this season. Sounds very alarming, doesn’t it? Maybe those of us who thought overt racism had all but disappeared from English football were wrong after all. Scratch the surface and you’ll find that bigotry is still rife. Well, actually, no. Racism isn’t on the rise. It’s the reporting of racism which is on the up. Or should I say on the app? In July 2013, Kick It Out launched a mobile phone app with a facility to enable ‘on the spot’ reporting of racist or discriminatory behaviour. And it certainly appears that the app is having an impact. According to Kick It Out, 27 per cent of the complaints in the professional game were made through its reporting app. A cause for celebration? Good news if you’re a web developer or a copper’s nark. To me, it’s a depressing sign that we’re fast becoming a nation of police informers.

The video footage of Chelsea fans singing ‘We’re racist’ and shoving a black passenger off a Paris Metro train has thrown the spotlight on the issue of racism in football. The Paris Metro incident has triggered a succession of copycat complaints about Chelsea and West Ham fans singing racist and anti-Semitic songs on trains. I don’t share Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley’s fear that ‘prejudice is on the increase’. It’s very rare to hear overt racist chanting at football matches these days. The relative increase in reported incidents sounds dramatic, but the absolute numbers tell a different story. So far this season there have been 117 reports incidents of racist abuse and 32 reports of anti-Semitic abuse. And that’s at all levels of the game – from professional football right down to the grassroots game. I’m sure that plenty of language which contravenes modern racial etiquette goes unreported. If you look hard enough, you’ll invariably find football fans expressing abusive or inappropriate sentiments in the pub or on a train. These days it’s easier to record these incidents on mobile phones and report the culprits to the authorities. Snitching has never been so easy.

There was a time when we might have felt uneasy about living in a society in which people were encouraged to report their fellow citizens to the authorities. Yet grassing up fellow football fans to the cops is precisely what the Kick It Out app is designed to facilitate. The app isn’t just intended for reporting racist or anti-Semitic incidents; it can also be used to report homophobic or sexist behaviour. Writing in the Guardian, Roisin Wood, director of Kick It Out, said: ‘We take encouragement from receiving a greater level of reports, because it suggests people are more willing and confident to come forward.’ Is the rise of snitching really something to celebrate? There’s a strong whiff here of the ‘culture of denunciation’ in Stalinist East Germany. Citizens of the former GDR lived in constant fear of being reported to the Stasi by a friend, neighbour or workmate. According to one historian, at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Stasi had 97,000 paid employees and 173,000 unofficial informers. Snitches were literally everywhere. Have we so quickly forgotten what a corrosive effect this kind of culture of denunciation has on society? It breeds paranoia, suspicion and distrust. The proliferation of snitching hotlines only serves to entrench atomisation and accelerate the attenuation of social bonds.

If anti-racism were still a progressive force, it would encourage political dialogue and debate. It would seek to break down social barriers and divisions, not institutionalise them. But anti-racism has lost its progressive and egalitarian character. Gone are the campaigns against immigration laws, deportations or police harassment. When I took part in anti-racist demonstrations in the 1980s and 1990s, we used to chant ‘Racist police, off our streets!’. The authorities were seen as part of the problem. And that’s why we’d never dream of asking the police to lock people up for spouting racist claptrap. We thought the best way to challenge racist ideas was through political argument. But anti-racism’s anti-establishment roots have long been forgotten. These days anti-racism appears as little more than an intolerant purge of inappropriate or offensive language. Organisations like Kick It Out work hand in glove with the police. In effect, they are the sporting arm of the police.

One of the problems with encouraging people to report abuse is that it allows us to abdicate our own collective responsibility for dealing with bigots. Instead of confronting the idiots who sing racist songs, we can just click on the app, finger the culprits and hit send. Obviously, you need to pick your battles. If you’re outnumbered, it’s probably advisable to bite your lip. But it’s not unreasonable to expect the majority of fans who are against racism to tell the tiny minority of numbskulls to shut up. Call it informal dispute resolution, if you like. It’s certainly not the easy option. It requires a degree of robustness and courage. There’s no app to help us. But, unless we want to live in an intolerant, fearful, shop-thy-neighbour culture, then we have to stand up to bigots ourselves and reject Kick It Out’s sinister snitching app.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @DuleepOffside

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Topics Politics


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