Rio Ferdinand is deeply concerned about footballers who he believes will become the target of racist abuse and ‘hateful behaviour’ during the World Cup.
The former England defender, who won 81 caps for the Three Lions, has called on social media companies to do more for athletes who he says are not sufficiently protected against the virtual vitriol of keyboard warriors, some incidents justifying criminal investigations.
Ferdinand, himself a frequent victim of attacks, expressed his exasperation on behalf of players who might fly to Qatar, fearing their dreams of playing on football’s biggest stage could be ruined by racism.
“I honestly think it will probably happen again,” he told the PA news agency. “It’s unfair. And I don’t think it’s just English players, I think it’s colored players all over the world who will think that.
“For a player to step onto the pitch and think, ‘If I make a mistake, I could be racially abused’, that’s real. And nowadays, should that be the case? It shouldn’t It shouldn’t happen anytime soon, but you’d think we would have taken steps to get out of it.
“But the intentions and values of social media platforms are there for all to see. They don’t want to change because they know that these kinds of toxic and hateful behaviors generate revenue. So they are not going to change, it seems to me, for the moment.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were subjected to a barrage of abuse after missing the penalty shootout in England’s Euro 2020 final shootout loss to Italy, with just four men convicted one year later.
Many criticized the severity and low number of penalties handed down by authorities and, like Ferdinand, urged tech giants to do more to protect gamers from similar torrents of hate.
The proposed online safety bill would impose a greater duty of care on tech companies to tackle abuse on their platforms, and includes the power to fine those who fail to comply. It was due to be the subject of the next phase of discussion in Parliament this summer, but has been delayed several times since.
Ferdinand said: “The players have to be sitting there thinking, ‘Well, I’m at the mercy of someone’s ignorance. If they decide to come out and spout all this abuse during the World Cup after something happened in a game, I have no protection.”
Racism is one of the key topics Ferdinand explores in his new three-part Prime Video documentary series Tipping Point, which premieres on Friday, with the other two episodes focusing on mental health and sexuality within the football ecosystem.
In the first episode, Ferdinand travels to Los Angeles to speak with former lioness Eniola Aluko, now scouting director at National Women’s Soccer League side Angel City.
Aluko, who has testified in parliament on issues of racism and inclusion, tells Ferdinand she thinks American athletes have made more headway in using their profile to fight hate.
Ferdinand agrees, citing the 2020 NBA player play-off boycotts following the shooting of 29-year-old black man Jacob Blake by police as an example of athletes taking more disruptive action. .
Why, then, don’t English footballers do something similar?
“They are discouraged,” Ferdinand said. “They don’t see enough movement when things go wrong. They don’t see enough support, sometimes even empathy and compassion when they’re the victims of some of these things.
“So I understand their refusal to say that if nothing is happening, why do I have to have the energy to do it?”
Ferdinand is hoping to ease the pressure on individual players and has set up what could be the most powerful WhatsApp group in football, with members such as Wilfried Zaha, Romelu Lukaku, Ian Wright, Hope Powell and Peter Crouch among those planning actively how to harness their collective power. – something Ferdinand sees as fundamental to influencing stakeholders.
“I’m hopeful,” he said. “I’m not naive enough to think that we released this documentary and we’re going to rewrite the rules and everything will change for the positive. (But) you’d like to have some kind of good impact in the right way.