The harsh treatment Manchester City's Raheem Sterling receives from the media is fuelling racism on the terraces, the Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) said yesterday.
Sterling said on Sunday that newspapers were "unacceptable" in their portrayal of young black players. The 24-year-old's comments came a day after he faced alleged racist abuse from a supporter during City's 2-0 Premier League defeat by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
The PFA, the trade union for footballers in England, strongly condemned reports of racist abuse which they say has increased from last season. "We commend Raheem for his professionalism during the incident and the statement he made via Instagram on Sunday," the PFA said in a statement. "We stand with him in calling for the press to consider the coverage of all footballers carefully, and to end their imbalanced coverage aimed at young, black players. "We have been aware for a few months of the targeting Raheem faces in the press, it is evident that he is often singled out and treated more harshly than his colleagues. As such, these stories are fuelling racism within the game, as reports of racist abuse continue to rise." No arrests were made after Saturday's league game but the Metropolitan Police and Chelsea said they would review footage to determine whether any racist abuse took place. Anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out last month released figures that showed reports of discriminatory abuse within football were up 11 percent from last season. Of the 520 reported incidents, 53 percent were racism related.
"While it may be true that no racial slurs have been used in the press coverage received by Raheem and others, we are in no doubt that the negative narrative influences public opinion and emboldens racist rhetoric," the PFA added. Former professional John Barnes, who like Sterling played for England and Liverpool and faced abuse in his career, said the issues of race went beyond the pitch. "More often than not the media influences society... The only way we can change racism is if we change the perception of the average black person in the street and then you will have many more average black people being given what they deserve," the 55-year-old told the BBC. "It's a very long-term process, we're talking about hundreds of years of indoctrination ensuring that there are certain groups of people who are more worthy than others."