Former England striker Les Ferdinand has challenged social media giants to tackle racism on their platforms with the ruthlessness they have shown towards Covid-19 conspiracy theorists.
Arsenal great Ian Wright became the latest high-profile footballer to complain about being targeted for abuse, which has led to a police investigation in Ireland.
Now Ferdinand, who starred in the Premier League for QPR, Newcastle United and Tottenham, says racism from keyboard warriors will persist unless stringent steps are taken by tech giants.
He told Stats Perform: “One of the things I’ve been looking at, with all this Covid situation, I’m seeing things taken down off social media where people put an opinion about what they think COVID-19’s all about, and that’s been taken down off YouTube, that’s been taken down off Facebook.
“All this sort of stuff has been taken down, but they allow racist abuse to float freely through their channels.
“Until these people decide to do something about it, this problem will remain.”
Representatives of major English football authorities met with several social media companies last year in an effort to press the point about players being targeted online.
Wright complained of being abused on Instagram, while players including Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling, Watford striker Troy Deeney and Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha have faced vile remarks on a number of platforms, based around their skin colour.
Racism has no place in football or wider society.
We will not tolerate racism in any form, and we’re proud of the diversity within our Arsenal family.
We’ll always stand with you, @IanWright0 pic.twitter.com/F7JhYuu8yx
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 12, 2020
The problem is widespread, and Ferdinand wants there to be greater accountability.
He said: “You can set up a social media account with it being [identifiable as] you and you can racially abuse people.
“Let’s remember some years ago it was seen as part of parcel [of football] for people to go into a stadium and racially abuse people of a different background to them and it was accepted.
“People could do monkey chants and people could throw bananas on the pitch and then walk out at the end and that was it.
“This is another avenue. They can’t do it in the stadiums too freely now because you’ve got CCTV cameras and we have people who may do something about in it in the stadiums.
“But from sitting behind a keyboard it’s easy to throw out these things – and I continue to say racism isn’t a problem in football, it’s a problem in society.”
Now director of football at QPR, Ferdinand played for the club from 1987 to 1995, a time when racism inside grounds was rifer than it is in the modern era.
He said: “Football has just been a medium in the past where people go and vent it without any repercussions.
“So those same people that were doing it back then – okay, generations have changed, but there’s still racist people in society and they’ll find a way to be racist, and this is the easiest way to do it without any identification going back to that person.”