Anton Ferdinand’s documentary, ‘Football, Racism and Me’ was an extraordinarily powerful account of the impact racism and racist abuse has on an individual. We commend Anton for his bravery in sharing his experience, which is something we can all learn from.
Anton’s decision to report the incident to The FA set a precedent that led to significant changes in how racism cases are dealt with by governing bodies, with increased sanctions for discriminatory conduct. Because of Anton, players are better protected today.
The investigation also led to a change in the way the PFA responded to cases of discrimination in football. Pre-2011, if two players were involved in an incident, our policy was not to represent either player, to avoid conflict of interest or creating a hierarchy of care within an organisation committed to supporting all current and former professional footballers.
This is no longer our policy. Now, in the event of a player vs player case, both parties are offered representation by the PFA. Following this case, we also expanded our Equalities department so any players appearing at FA hearings in matters related to discrimination could be accompanied by a member of the Equalities team for support.
The expansion of our team included adding colleagues who have personally experienced similar instances of discrimination in football. Having members of our team who can directly relate to the racism players face has enabled us to better support players who receive such abuse.
After the case, the racist language used was described as “industrial” - something we felt needed to be challenged by us as the players union. Our teams now visit senior players at professional clubs to run workshops explaining the impact of racial abuse and discrimination. They also outline what constitutes acceptable behaviour as a player, the Equalities Act and FA rules on discrimination. This includes explaining the process of reporting a grievance, both on and off the field, and making applicable sanctions clear.
Anton’s documentary highlights the very significant emotional impact racist abuse has on players. In 2012, we launched a dedicated department focusing on players’ wellbeing, and now offer a wide range of mental health support services via the PFA Charity for all current and former players. Any player who has been the victim of racist or other discriminatory abuse at any point in their career has access to these services.
Racist abuse in football is an issue that has not gone away. While the industry has made progress in the decade since this incident occurred, there is still significant work to be done. We are committed to working with all football’s stakeholders to combat racism and discrimination in football and ensuring players who face abuse are protected and supported.
Any players who have faced racist abuse now or in the past can access support from our Equalities team here.