Arsenal chief Vinai Venkatesham has insisted that recent cases of players being racially abused on social media should be a “wake-up call”.
Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah is the latest high-profile footballer to be targeted after he was urged to leave the club in a racist message sent in reply to a training picture he posted on Twitter ahead of his side’s Europa League tie against Benfica.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Lauren James and Chelsea full-back Reece James – Lauren’s brother – are among the other footballers recently targeted by racist abuse on social media.
Venkatesham said that online racism is becoming normalised and added that he is “worried about the path we are heading on” if progress is not made.
Speaking at Thursday’s Financial Times’ Business of Football summit, Venkatesham said: “The abuse of so many of our black footballers on social channels is probably and possibly the biggest problem we have in the game at the moment.
“Footballers, referees and officials are all human beings and have feelings like anybody else, and we really cannot underestimate the impact that social media abuse can have on an individual.
“We have to take this opportunity as a wake-up call. Unfortunately, we are getting to a point where this type of abuse that a black footballer is getting is becoming increasingly normalised. It is 2021 and we cannot be having that conversation.
“I am not for a moment saying this is simple, and this easy, and there is a silver bullet that can solve it.
“But football, the players, and social media companies need to come together to solve this, because this is a moment in time. If we don’t make positive progress I really, really worry about the path we are heading on.”
Venkatesham said Arsenal has protocols in place to aid the growing problem, but urged social media companies to do more.
Earlier this week, Instagram announced new measures to tackle online abuse.
Venkatesham added: “Of course we provide support, psychologists, all that type of stuff, but I don’t want to be providing support, and I don’t want to be writing another release saying how disgusted we are about players being abused on social media.
“Across the whole Premier League, the clubs do a lot, and the Premier League themselves do a lot, but we really need the support of the social media companies here. We cannot do this alone.
“How can you explain to a black footballer that if a piece of pirated content goes up on social media it is taken down within minutes, but that is not the same for racist abuse. I don’t know how you explain that?”
It has been suggested that a social media boycott by clubs and footballers would put the pressure on social media companies to take stronger action.
But Sanjay Bhandari, the chair of anti-racism group, Kick It Out, said: “It depends on what you want to achieve by that.
“If players and clubs come off social media for a day or a weekend, and are doing that because they feel it is the right thing to do and it sends a message then I am very supportive of that.
“But if you are doing it with the view that you are going to give social media a bloody nose and they are going to come back to the negotiating table because you have hurt them, you have to remember we are looking at David and Goliath.
“We are not Goliath here, we are David, a very, very small David, so it is going to take smart working and thinking about the things that really might hurt social media.
“I am more interested in diverting resources rather than just a boycott.”