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Aidan White

PSApicPublished: 29 May 2012

Region: UK & Worldwide

By Aidan White

The most testing confrontation facing English football next season will be between racists on and off the pitch and the game’s administrators who say they are determined to eliminate abuse on the back of a season when racism dominated newspaper headlines.

Changes to the contracts of every player in the Premier League and the Football League will make racist abuse a sackable offence.

The hardline is being led by the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) which says the return of racism has provided football with a “reality check” demonstrating that high-profile media campaigns such as “kick racism out of football” are not enough to stem rising intimidation of black players on the pitch and from the sidelines, and not least from social media such as Twitter.

As well as toughening up contracts, the PFA plans to launch a new footballer education programme aimed at giving players, managers and owners training on how to combat racism and discrimination.

The role of media is also crucial, particularly concerning social networks which have contributed to making racism an emotive issue over the last year.

Long-time Twitter fan and Manchester City defender Micah Richards quit the social media platform after becoming a target of racist abuse. He is just one of a number of Premier League players have been subject to intimidating racism. A student who launched an abusive rant on Twitter after the near-death experience of Bolton player Fabrice Muamba earlier this year was sent to jail for racism.

Twitter was also a factor in stoking the rage that followed the two high-profile incidents which cast a shadow over one of the most football exciting competitions in recent history.

Liverpool footballer Luis Suarez was given an eight-match ban for racial abuse of a fellow player in October, even though his club steadfastly refused to condemn his behaviour. Around the same time the captain of Chelsea John Terry was charged with racist abuse of Queens Park Rangers player Anton Ferdinand. Terry will appear in court in July.

These incidents have forced football chiefs to rethink their approach to combating racism. Although the social media are increasingly a concern, traditional media have played a largely positive role in confronting racism.

The media's reaction to the ban on Luis Suarez and his heavy fine, for instance, has been generally unsympathetic to the striker and even critical of the public support given to the player by his manager and team mates. Columnists largely backed the hardline stance of the Football Association and pointed the finger of blame at Suarez and Liverpool.

When the new season gets underway, media will continue to play a key role in monitoring whether the powerful anti-racism message from the top has been heard and acted upon in the dressing room.

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