Marcus Rashford is right when he says the racist abuse he has received is ‘humanity and social media at its worst’. And it is right too that police take action against those who target football players like him because of the colour of their skin. But is it wise to appoint a dedicated hate crime officer based in a football unit, as West Midlands Police have done? The argument for doing so is not convincing.
Why? Because when the abuse levelled at footballers goes too far, police have already shown they can be swift to act. Greater Manchester Police is investigating the latest racism directed at Rashford, and it would come as no surprise if arrests are soon made.
But while this abuse is awful, let's be clear: we are not seeing a return to the dark days of the 80s when such racism in football was rife. Back then, a football hate crime officer may have been justified. Not any longer. Football is one of the most diverse professions in Britain: today, a player’s skin colour will not hold them back. All that football clubs, and (the overwhelming majority of) fans care about is whether a player can play.
We also know that, last season, there were 287 reported hate crime incidents connected to matches in England and Wales. Yes, it’s true that this represented a rise on the year before. And this is still too high. But compare this to other crimes: in 2019/20 there were over 402,000 burglaries in England and Wales. Around 85,000 women experience sexual violence in England and Wales every year. The sad reality is that many of these crimes go unsolved.
The number of rape convictions in England and Wales has fallen to a record low, according to the Crown Prosecution Service. In 2019-20, nearly 1,500 suspects in cases where a rape had been alleged were convicted. This was half the number from three years ago.
And what about West Midlands Police’s own record? It doesn’t make for encouraging reading. The force has the worst record in the country for solving burglaries. Nearly nine in ten such crimes resulted in no offender being caught.
According to the Express and Star, West Midlands Police says it has no officers dedicated to dealing specifically with burglaries. So how can it justify appointing a football hate crime officer?
In a recent interview, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson suggested funding reductions had taken their toll on the force’s crime solving abilities.
‘The cuts have been the biggest challenge. We are now moving slowly in the other direction and seeing more money come in. We will see what we see. But make no mistake, the current situation in terms of the country’s finances is dire,’ he said.
So is the abuse directed at footballers horrendous? Of course, and it’s right that the police taken action against perpetrators. But given the police are under big financial pressures, and, in many cases, wholly failing to solve crimes or bring offenders to justice, it’s hard to make the case for a dedicated football hate crime officer. Victims of unsolved burglaries in the West Midlands should tell the police to reassess their priorities.