Arsenal’s chief executive, Vinai Venkatesham, has described social media abuse of black players as the “biggest problem” in football and says its impact “cannot be underestimated”.
The Arsenal forward Eddie Nketiah is the latest high-profile footballer to be targeted after he was urged to leave the club in a racist message sent in reply to a training picture he posted on Twitter before Europa League tie against Benfica.
Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Lauren James and Chelsea’s Reece James – Lauren’s brother – are among the other footballers recently targeted by racist abuse on social media.
Venkatesham, speaking at Thursday’s FT Business of Football summit, said: “The abuse of so many of our black footballers on social channels is probably and possibly the biggest problem we have in the game at the moment. Footballers, referees and officials are all human beings and have feelings like anybody else, and we really cannot underestimate the impact that social media abuse can have on an individual.
“We have to take this opportunity as a wake-up call. Unfortunately, we are getting to a point where this type of abuse that a black footballer is getting is becoming increasingly normalised. It is 2021 and we cannot be having that conversation.
“I am not for a moment saying this is simple, and this is easy, and there is a silver bullet that can solve it. But football, the players, and social media companies need to come together to solve this, because this is a moment in time. If we don’t make positive progress I really, really worry about the path we are heading on.”
Venkatesham said Arsenal had protocols to aid the growing problem, but urged social media companies to do more. Instagram has this month announced new measures to tackle online abuse.
Venkatesham said: “Of course we provide support, psychologists, all that type of stuff, but I don’t want to be providing support, and I don’t want to be writing another release saying how disgusted we are about players being abused on social media.
“Across the whole Premier League, the clubs do a lot, and the Premier League themselves do a lot, but we really need the support of the social media companies here. We cannot do this alone.
“How can you explain to a black footballer that if a piece of pirated content goes up on social media it is taken down within minutes, but that is not the same for racist abuse. I don’t know how you explain that?”