British Prime Minister David Cameron asked England's football leaders on Wednesday to provide an action plan to banish the recent re-emergence of racism in the national sport.
Addressing anti-racism campaigners, football officials and former players at a Downing Street summit, Cameron warned that abusive behaviour by football stars is being imitated by youngsters and must be stopped.
“We have some problems still today,” Cameron said. “We need to act quickly to make sure those problems do not creep back in ... if everyone plays their role, then we can easily crush and deal with this problem.”
The English Football Association was asked to provide a full report detailing how racism and other forms of discrimination can be combatted.
“We have committed to coming back with a detailed follow up to this in two months,” FA chairman David Bernstein said.
In a bid to encourage more people from ethnic minorities to become managers, the government announced it will give 3 million pounds ($4.7-million) toward the FA's new coaching centre and support a bursary scheme. There are no black managers in the Premier League.
The abuse against black players was thought to have been eradicated after blighting English football in the 1970s and ‘80s, and Cameron cautioned that recent events must not “drag us back to the bad old days of the past.”
In July, John Terry will become the first high-profile footballer to stand trial for racial abuse following a confrontation with Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand that led to the Chelsea centre back being stripped of the England captaincy earlier this month.
Sport Secretary Jeremy Hunt said after Wednesday's summit that football needs to address “how we draw the line between banter and offensive language.”
Liverpool striker Luis Suarez was banned for eight matches for racially abusing Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, also in October. But Suarez created a new storm after returning to action earlier this month by refusing to shake hands with Evra, who is black, before a match at Old Trafford.
“What happens on the field influences what happens off the field. You see children as young as 6 imitating the behaviour they see on the field,” Cameron said. “So this is not just important for football — it's important for the whole country ... we want to make sure football is all about a power to do good, rather than anything else.”
The anti-discrimination meeting, which was attended by former players including John Barnes, also dealt with the lingering problem of homophobia in the game.
“There are 563 Premier League players but at the moment none of them are out as gay,” Hunt said. “We talked about whether that is potentially because gay people don't want to be become Premier League footballers because they are intimidated by the atmosphere ... or they don't think the environment makes it possible for them to come out.”
Justin Fashanu, the first black footballer to move in a 1 million-pound transfer when he joined Nottingham Forest in 1981, publicly acknowledged his homosexuality in 1990. His career subsequently faded and he was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 at 37.
Fashanu's niece, Amal, was among the participants at the Downing Street meeting.
As it was taking place, West Ham midfielder Ravel Morrison was fined 7,000 pounds ($11,000) by the FA for using a gay slur on Twitter.