The Premier League has opened 400 investigations into the abuse of players and managers on social media in the last 12 months, Sportsmail can reveal.
The top-flight is determined to identify and track down abusers and wherever possible ensure they are banned from stadiums or prosecuted by the police.
The zero-tolerance approach is part of the Premier League’s, No Room for Racism action plan, which was launched one year ago.
Racist abuse escalated dramatically during the coronavirus pandemic and the associated lockdowns, and as a result the top flight introduced an online reporting system for players and their families.
Marcus Rashford is one of the players who has received appalling racist messages online and former team mate Anthony Martial, who is currently on loan at Sevilla, was also targeted while at Manchester United
It will now be extended to fans, who will be encouraged to report any abuse they see of a player or official.
While the number of investigations is a stark reminder of the extent of the problem in football, it also illustrates the improvement in the league’s process for dealing with it.
‘Four hundred cases this year being addressed sounds like a negative, but it is a positive because people are coming forward and reporting it, which is what we want,’ the former Leicester City captain and Premier League title and FA Cup winner, Wes Morgan, told Sportsmail.
The ex-Nottingham Forest defender, who made over 750 appearances in his career, is becoming a leader in the fight against racism and an advocate of giving people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds more opportunity to coach manage and run football clubs, since he retired from playing last year.
Among hundreds of incidents of abuse, Wales winger Rabbi Matondo (left) and his team-mate Ben Cabango (right) were racially abused on social media following their friendly win over Mexico on Saturday
‘Social media is a platform that makes it easy to access anyone,’ added Morgan, who is a member of the Premier League BAME Advisory Board.
‘People were at home watching TV, watching sport and if anyone was aggrieved by someone on a football field, they could voice their feelings quite easily.
‘I think it has slowed down. I don’t hear about as many situations happening now. Hopefully it has slowed down.’
Appalling racist abuse rained down on players including, Marcus Rashford, Reece James, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe and Romaine Sawyers, among many more.
Public anger at the online slurs came to a head following the Euro 2020 final at Wembley when the England players brave enough to step up and take a penalty in the defeat to Italy, were targeted on social media.
Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho bore the brunt of the vile messages.
Former Leicester City captain Wes Morgan is now one of those leading the fight against racism
Through the online reporting system, members of the Premier League’s legal team can be sent a notification of abuse via a direct message on social media platforms.
NO ROOM FOR RACISM
The Premier League launched a No Room for Racism campaign in February last year.
It includes an online reporting system for players and their families, to flag up abuse on social media. Fans will now be able to use the system to highlight abuse of players, which leads to a review by a top-flight legal officer.
But the Premier League is also working to give opportunities to people from a black and ethnic minority backgrounds to establish themselves in coaching. It is run with the EFL and FA, among others.
There are currently 36 coaches enrolled on various schemes, which will increase to 50 when the next cohort joins.
A Professional Player to Coach Scheme offers a 23-month placement at club academies, which has seen Eric Odhiambo, achieve a full-time position at Coventry City and Jon-Paul Pittman, who was on placement with Exeter City, is now Lead Professional Phase Coach at Forest Green Rovers.
Another scheme, called the Coach Index launched in December. Coaches from the professional to the grassroots game, who are black, Asian, mixed heritage or female, are signposted to development and job opportunities.
Premier League Chief Executive Richard Masters said: ‘While we are pleased with the progress we are making across football; we know that significant change takes time and there is still much more we need to do to ensure equality is fully embedded across all areas of the game.’
Tracking down abusers is a challenge. Seven out of 10 messages are believed to come from overseas. However, there have been successes at home and abroad.
A 19-year-old man in Singapore was handed a nine-month probation order after sending abusive messages – including death threats – to Brighton forward Neal Maupay.
But Morgan speaks for all of football when he says he wants more to be done by the platforms themselves.
‘There is a lot happening, but fundamentally, the social media companies have to do a lot more,’ he said.
As well as reacting to abuse, the Premier League is promoting equality. But there is long way to go.
Figures from a report commissioned by the Black Footballers’ Partnership earlier this year revealed that although 43 per cent of Premier League players are black, they represent just 14 per cent of all known UEFA Pro Licence holders, who have graduated under the FA.
Only 4.4 per cent of managerial positions usually taken by former players are occupied by black employees, the report concluded.
It is even worse in senior management, where just 1.6 per cent of executive, leadership and ownership positions are held by black people.
Morgan was always up for the challenge when he was a player, breaking into Forest’s first team aged 19, after he was rejected by the neighbours, Notts County, as a youth.
As captain at Leicester, Morgan and his team mates overcame almost impossible odds to delight the country and lift the Premier League title in 2016.
And after his retirement in 2021, Morgan, 38, has set himself the task of breaking into the boardroom. The stats suggest this could be his biggest challenge yet, but typically he is undeterred.
‘My main goal is to get to an executive position,’ said Morgan. ‘Sporting directorship is an area of football I want to get into.
‘There are not many [black sporting directors],’ the former Jamaica international admits. ‘Les Ferdinand comes to mind. I can’t think of anyone else.
‘It is quite alarming and not good to see. Hopefully I will get the opportunity to get to that position and at the same time people want someone who is reputable and capable, it is a big, big position in a football club.
Harry Kane sent a clear message to those behind the vile racist abuse of England stars in the wake of the heartbreaking Euro 2020 final defeat by saying ‘we don’t want you’
Morgan (R) has played throughout the leagues and when he began his career at Nottingham Forest he was told to ignore racist abuse, now he is urging young players to speak out
‘That is why I am getting the necessary qualifications.’
As a teenager, Morgan studied business at South Notts College, before Forest plucked him from the central midfield at Dunkirk FC, a semi-professional club on the banks on the Trent, a couple of miles upstream of the City Ground.
Since he hung up his boots the sturdy centre back has already achieved a string of sports business qualifications and he is now studying for a Masters Degree in sports directorships at Manchester Metropolitan University.
‘If I can get into senior management, I will be in a position to implement change and be a role model for other people,’ he said.
Perhaps it is a sign of shifting attitudes – or further evidence that Leicester City gets a lot right on and off the pitch – but Morgan feels supported in trying to fulfil his ambition.
And it is not just racism, Arsenal defender, Hector Bellerin, (on loan at Real Betis in Spain), was singled out for homophobic abuse after speaking out on sexuality
‘Leicester have been very helpful. They have helped me achieve what I want to,’ he said.
The underrepresentation of black and minority groups in football is an issue all clubs and the governing bodies have to address.
QPR director of football Les Ferdinand has been a powerful voice in the debate. Last month, he told Sky Sports there is still a glass ceiling for black coaches and has questioned the Football Association’s appetite for meaningful change.
He points out that the conversations over supporting the progression of black players into senior positions has been ongoing for 30 years.
However, Morgan is more optimistic. He sees progress and is prepared to put faith in the processes now being put in place.
That includes all of the football authorities working together, to deliver new coaching programmes to give training and opportunities to black former players.
QPR director of football Les Ferdinand has been an outspoken critic of failed initiatives
In addition, a scheme aimed at black, Asian, minority ethnic and female coaches, right down to grassroots football to highlight training and employment opportunities was launched in December.
‘I would like to think there is a real will to change,’ said Morgan, who was taking a break from speaking to academy players at Leicester, when he spoke to Sportsmail.
‘There is a commitment from clubs. It is all about creating opportunities. That is the big thing for us at the moment.
‘A lot is being introduced to change the statistics and increase diversity. There is a real commitment from football clubs from the top to the bottom to make their workforce more diverse.’
Morgan has played in every division of the EFL, as well as the Premier League. And while he avoided the worst of the social media onslaught against players in recent years, he has seen abuse. And he has also seen progress, although he would say it is not enough.
Leicester City, led by Wes Morgan, delighted the nation with their Premier League title in 2016
‘There has been improvement in the game in terms of how stadiums manage the crowd. In terms of shouting abuse.
‘When I first started playing football if you heard racist abuse towards you the idea was to not say anything to ‘let your football do the talking’. Now you don’t have to accept it. You can report it. You know it will be addressed and people can’t get away with it.
‘No player should have to deal with discrimination of any kind.
‘We are at a point where everyone is involved in tackling discrimination and racism. It is a real positive step. Ten years ago, there was nothing like these initiatives. There would be a token weekend and that would be it.
‘Supporters and communities are buying into [football] being a diverse sport and that it is for everyone, which positive and encouraging.’