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Premier League backs extending football banning orders to cover online abuse

Euro 2020
(Image credit: Danny Lawson)

The Premier League supports Government plans to extend football banning orders to cover online abuse.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the changes to the orders on Wednesday, in the wake of horrific messages being sent to England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka after they missed penalties in the Euro 2020 final shoot-out defeat to Italy on Sunday.

Johnson told Labour leader Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions that those found guilty of racist online abuse “will not be going to the match, no ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses”.

In a statement released on Wednesday evening, Johnson added: “I was appalled by the abhorrent abuse directed towards a number of our footballers in the aftermath of Sunday’s game. More must be done to prevent people being bullied and trolled online.

“We are introducing legislation that will force social media companies to take responsibility and action where this vile behaviour exists on their platforms or face substantial financial penalties if they fail in their duty to do so.

“We are also working closely with the football and police authorities to ensure we can track and take action against online abusers and will ban them from football grounds in the same way we would if they had committed these offences on our streets.”

The English top flight is understood to support the extension of the orders to cover online abuse, and feels they have been under-utilised up to this point.

The league supports their greater use for discriminatory behaviour in stadiums and online.

Banning orders allow magistrates to prohibit individuals from attending all regulated matches in the UK if they are convicted of relevant offences.

While they may also be required to surrender their passport before overseas matches and tournaments, the legislation does not currently cover online incidents.

Bukayo Saka, pictured, is being supported by his club, the FA and the Premier League

Bukayo Saka, pictured, is being supported by his club, the FA and the Premier League (Mike Egerton/PA)

The orders can last between three and 10 years and are believed to be largely handed out for violent and public disorder offences.

The PA news agency understands top-flight clubs decided at their annual general meeting last month to extend league-wide any sanction imposed by a single club on a supporter for discriminatory or otherwise abusive behaviour.

The league is working with Rashford, Sancho and Saka and their clubs to review the accounts which posted the abusive messages and provide all investigative findings to the local authorities.

On Wednesday Greater Manchester Police confirmed a 37-year-old man from Ashton upon Mersey had been arrested after social media posts were directed towards England players following Sunday’s match.

The Premier League’s own online abuse reporting system found that from its recent analysis, 80 per cent of identifiable abuse came from overseas. The league has not indicated yet how many instances of abuse the system detected overall in the 2020-21 season, or what percentage of abuse was identifiable.

The system helped identify and convict an individual in Singapore who abused Brighton forward Neal Maupay.

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Starmer claimed the Prime Minister and Home Secretary Priti Patel’s failure to condemn the booing of England players taking the knee during the tournament had given encouragement to abusers, and said: “Far from giving racism the red card, the Prime Minister gave it the green light.”

Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings accused the Home Secretary of having managed to “stoke the fire” in the tournament by claiming the team’s taking of the knee against racism was “gesture politics”.

Johnson said in response to Starmer’s comments: “The Home Secretary has faced racism and prejudice all her career of a kind he can never imagine. And she has taken practical steps to get black and minority officers in record numbers.”

Earlier, Conservative former minister Steve Baker warned the party needed to change its attitude towards people who take the knee.

He said the controversy which erupted after the Euro 2020 final at Wembley should serve as a “wake-up call” over how it was seen in the rest of the country.

Premier League club captains are set to meet early next month to discuss whether to continue with the gesture in the new season.

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Portsmouth, meanwhile, have launched an investigation into allegations that racist messages were posted about England players in an online group chat involving players from the club’s academy under-18s.

Screen shots purporting to be from the chat following Sunday’s defeat were widely circulated on social media on Wednesday morning, and the Sky Bet League One club are now looking into the matter.

A club statement read: “Portsmouth Football Club are aware of images circulating on social media that allegedly originate from an academy U18 group chat and which are discriminatory in nature.

“The club have launched an immediate investigation and will provide an update once this has been completed.

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“Portsmouth Football Club strongly condemn racism and are totally committed to the elimination of all forms of discrimination. There is no place for it in our game or society as a whole.”

American owner Michael Eisner tweeted later on Wednesday: “There is no place for hatred or bigotry of any kind at Portsmouth FC or any other organization with which I’m affiliated.

“We won’t tolerate it, and there will be appropriate consequences for anyone who engages in racist behavior in social media or elsewhere.”

It is understood the club have notified the EFL and Kick It Out of the alleged discriminatory posts, but at present the club investigation is the only one taking place.

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The investigation is being conducted by senior management at Portsmouth and it is understood that it centres on the one screen shot which has been widely circulated on social media, and that the club are not aware of any additional abuse within the chat.

League Two side Oldham announced racist comments had been made to one of the club’s directors at last weekend’s friendly against Ashton United.

A club statement said: “We all understand that football is a game built on opinion and emotion but as recent events in the sport show, clubs will continue to take a zero tolerance approach to discriminatory behaviour to help enact positive change to make the game for everyone.

“As a result, the club are working closely with Greater Manchester Police who have offered their support and guidance to help identify those involved and will take the strongest possible action in conjunction with other relevant authorities to ensure this type of behaviour is eradicated from society.”

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