Children as young as eight racially abused at football games - Auckland club study

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The report highlighted racist attacks during football games came from the side lines, players and coaches. File / Stuff

By Mildred Armah, Stuff 

Warning: This report contains offensive language.

Children as young as eight are being racially abused on and off the football pitch according to a new report by south Auckland's “premier football club”.

Manukau United Football Club presented the report ‘Racism in Football in Aotearoa’ at a meeting with community leaders and sporting officials on Tuesday.

Stuff understands a representative of national governing body New Zealand Football (NZF) was also present.

Fifteen of 18 participants in the research said they had either experienced, or witnessed, racism in football – with 13 people saying they had witnessed racism towards others, or experienced it personally, within the last five years.

The report highlighted racist attacks during football games from people on the sideline, players and coaches.

It also said those who experienced or saw “blatant racism” during football matches said it went unpunished by referees, match officials and administrators.

Participants spoke of “black or brown” players being told to “smile so we can see you” during night practice and being told by coaches they'd had “too much curry” if they made a mistake during practice.

One interviewee said they were subject to racist taunts from players while refereeing a children's game.

Those who experienced or saw racism during football matches said it went unpunished.  File / Stuff

A Manukau United administrator, who is identified in the report only as Hikurangi,​ said players from their teams have been called “racist and horrible names”.

“I’ve heard the n-word used regularly as a weapon against us, especially if we’re winning. There’s also a little bit of prejudice there with the kids,” they said.

“Sometimes during kids’ games, the parents make racist comments. You can see this gets pushed down to the boys, who then say racist comments as well.”

He added that there have been a “few times” when referees have been informed about the abuse, “but they just say they didn’t hear, so the players get away with it”.

Spectators as well, are known to participate in the abuse, Hikurangi said.

“Calling us monkeys, saying things like ‘who do they think they are.’ This happens from premier level all the way down through the league.”

Parents sometimes made racist comments during kids’ games.  File / Stuff

Manukau United’s Lyn Doherty​ led the research project and said children interviewed noticed being treated differently based on their race, with some recalling racist terms used against them by other players and even coaches.

“It’s terms like ‘curry muncher’ and ‘dumb Māori’ being used and these are eight and nine-year-olds,” Doherty said in an interview with Stuff.

“Even though this is quite a small study, the findings are of concern.”

Interviewees in the report said football in Aotearoa is rooted in “colonial ideologies which uphold and reproduce racial inequities within all our systems of power”.

They see this play out as “a lack of black or brown bodies around decision-making tables, white referees and match officials who cannot or will not hear racial abuse on the field, and leadership at federation and national levels being unreflective of the ethnic makeup of those involved at the player level”.

The report was prepared by Manukau United to support the ‘Tackling Racism in Sport’ project of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The spokesperson said in the past 12 months, NZF via its national competitions or through its disciplinary committee have dealt with 3 incidents related to racism.  Ohn Kirk-Anderson / Stuff

Most of the 18 people interviewed were male (72%) and included Māori (33%), Fijian Indian (28%), Asian (22%), Pasifika (11%), Persian (6%). The age groups were broken down as 5-15 (16%), 25-35 (16%), 35-45 (27%) and 55-66 (16%).

In its strategic plan for 2020-2026, which was published in 2021, New Zealand Football (NZF) said one of its priorities was to make football the most inclusive sport in the country.

New Zealand will co-host the Fifa Women’s World Cup with Australia this year.

Last year, NZF acknowledged it needed to create a safer, more inclusive environment after Māori players came forward with their experiences of racism in football.

At the time, the organisation said it would be including more tikanga Māori within the organisation and working more closely with Māori Football Aotearoa.

In an email to Stuff, a NZF spokesperson said: “New Zealand Football agrees there is significant work to do to ensure the leadership of our game reflects and represents the communities of Aotearoa.”

The spokesperson said another football survey ‘Voice of The Participant’ from 2021, which included 8,282 respondents, found 35% of its participants at least occasionally experience, or have witnessed, inappropriate behaviour in the last 12 months.

New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell. Andrew Cornaga / Photosport

This research also indicated those most likely to experience or witness inappropriate behaviour are officials or referees (18%) rather than players (9%).

The spokesperson said in the past 12 months, NZF via its national competitions or through its disciplinary committee, have dealt with three incidents related to racism.

“Our strategies to address and change behaviours include our coach education programmes and targeted intervention strategies,” they said.

“We’ve also rolled out RefLive mobile app as a means of receiving and tracking referee feedback on team behaviour.”

The spokesperson said a “big” focus for the football system is working towards ensuring full diverse representation of all backgrounds across the various leadership roles in football.

“There is a very strong push towards gender representation in all leadership roles across 2023 and some great strides have been made here.

“We have also been working collaboratively with Māori Football Aotearoa over the past few years to help the organisation meet its vision of empowering Māori through football, and are in ongoing discussions about significant financial support to the organisation.”

In the last year, staff at NZF have had the opportunity to take part in training around how to uphold Te Tiriti in it’s mahi in football, the spokesperson said.

“As well as opportunities to learn more about te reo and tikanga and how to incorporate these into our work, which is an ongoing process for the football system.”