Sunday, July 21, 2024

Football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia, says first Muslim FA Council member Yunus Lunat -Dlight News

The first Muslim member of the FA Council has told Sky Sports News that “football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia” amid a four-fold increase in the number of incidents reported to Kick It Out in the first half of last season.

Yunus Lunat, who is the former chair of the FA Race Equality and Advisory Board, pointed to a spate of incidents over the last 18 months – and how they have been dealt with – which he believes illustrates how Islamophobia is not being treated as seriously as other forms of discrimination.

It comes after a Player Care consultant for Burnley Football Club received a warning from the Football Association for liking a number of Islamophobic posts on social media.

Burnley and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) have been approached by Sky Sports News for comment.

‘A stain on the English game’

Lunat, who served on the FA Council in 2013, told Sky Sports News: “It’s a stain on the English game. I’ve been saying for many years now that, sadly, football has a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia.

“Whilst it has made improvements in its processes and dealing with complaints of discrimination, that includes Islamophobia, there seems to be almost a double-standard or a lack of seriousness when it comes to complaints of Islamophobia.

“Football deals pretty well with racial complaints, complaints of homophobia and around other protected characteristics, but football does not appear to have the ability or wherewithal to deal with Islamophobia with the same seriousness.

“There almost seems to be a hierarchy of discrimination around what gets acted upon.

“I just do not understand why football continues to have this problem and issue.”

The Football Association has been approached by Sky Sports News for comment.

Lunat calls for consistency

At the beginning of last year, a former Aston Villa Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) officer was also warned, rather than charged, for a number of historical Islamophobic posts made on social media.

But the FA were successful in appealing a 17-month suspension handed down to former Crawley Town manager John Yems by an Independent Regulatory Commission for discrimination.

Yems had admitted to one charge and was found guilty of 11 of a further 15 charges brought against him for breaches of FA Rule E 3.2 over comments that “included a reference to ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race and/or nationality and/or religion or belief and/or gender” to Crawley players between 2019 and 2022 while he was manager.

The ban was upgraded to three years – the longest ever issued to a participant in English football for discrimination – after the appeal board said the initial finding against Yems was “untenable”.

But the FA did not appeal an eight-week suspension and fine given to Millwall’s head of youth recruitment at the beginning of 2023/24 season for a breach of their social media activity rules, relating to an anti-Islamic post.

Lunat, who is a member of Kick It Out’s newly-formed Islamophobia working group, said there needs to be more consistency when it comes to charges for rule breaches in order to restore trust and win back the trust of diverse communities across the game.

“There needs to be a consistency of approach,” Lunat added. “It sends out a message to communities that Islamophobia is not a priority.

“Communities lose confidence, because it sends out the wrong message and we go backwards.

“Football seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Islamophobia and these recent cases sadly highlight and confirm our fears.”

Football’s Islamophobia problem

Sixty seven per cent of those who experienced discrimination over the past years say they experience it less often due to the work of Kick It Out

There was a four-fold increase in reports of Islamophobia in football in the first half of the 2023/24 campaign compared to the same period the previous season. That followed on from a 300 per cent increase in reports of Islamphobic abuse received by Kick It Out during the 2022/23 season.

Kick It Out’s Islamophobia working group members include Aldershot Town chair Shahid Azeem, former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq, FA director Yasir Mirza, broadcaster Reshmin Chowdhury and Muslimah Sports Association chair Yashmin Harun.

Kick It Out wrote to football’s governing bodies earlier this year urging them to adopt the working definition of Islamophobia after receiving a rise in reported incidents during the season.

Yunus Lunat, Azeem Rafiq, Abu Nasir, Butch Fazal
(L-R) Yunus Lunat, Azeem Rafiq, former FA National Game Board member Abu Nasir and FA Coach Inclusion and Diversity Manager Butch Fazal attend the Sporting Equals Awards

The letter was sent ahead of March 15 – the United Nations’ International Day to combat Islamophobia – after consultation with Kick It Out’s Islamophobia Working Group.

The call came after Kick It Out successfully lobbied football to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism in 2021.

Anti-Muslim hate across the UK rose by 375 per cent in the four months between October 2023 and February 2024.

The charity Tell Mama recorded 2,010 Islamophobic incidents – up from 600 during the same period the previous year – which is the largest number over a four-month period since the charity began in 2011.

Kick It Out also revealed last year that they had received a record 496 reports of discrimination at grassroots level during the 2022/23 campaign, up 51 per cent from the previous season.

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