The Football Association have been urged to follow up the Crown Prosecution Service’s promise of criminal action over homophobic “rent boys” chants with disciplinary sanctions against clubs who fail to educate their fans.
Telegraph Sport revealed on Monday that the CPS do now regard the slur, which has been chanted frequently this season at Chelsea players, especially on-loan midfielders Conor Gallagher and Billy Gilmour, as a hate crime.
Tottenham condemned their own fans last week following the League Cup semi-final against Chelsea and, ahead of Wednesday’s second, Max Hill, the director of public prosecutions, has warned that the CPS will push for “harsher sentences” for discriminatory crimes like the “rent boy” chant that could include jail.
The tough message represents a victory for fans groups who, in consultation with the FA, have provided testimony to the CPS about the impact of the “rent boy” chant.
Tracy Brown, the chair of Chelsea Pride, praised the FA for their help but now stressed the need for enforcement. “That action must start with the FA and Premier League but go all the way down the football pyramid,” she said. “It should be seen the same as any other form of abuse. If you can’t educate the fans, I would like to see clubs get fined. The fans have said, ‘here is the evidence, we have had enough, we want to be able to go to football and not hear these chants’.”
Of the impact, Brown said: “It may not affect a straight person listening to this chant but it will stop a gay person coming into the ground. It will stop a lesbian coming into the ground. It will stop a gay player from coming out, which is the biggest thing that everybody talks about.”
Brown also stressed that the situation had got worse since fans returned to football stadiums following the Covid-19 lockdowns. “It’s not just this chant specifically – it is all forms of abuse,” she said. “It is very worrying.”
There were reports reports of homophobic and racist chanting at series of FA Cup matches last weekend, while supporters of Tottenham, Leeds United and Liverpool have all aimed the “rent boy” chant at Chelsea players this season. “My sports lead prosecutors have been responding to this growing threat by working with clubs, charities, and footballing bodies, as well as the police, to demonstrate what is needed to bring people accused of racist or homophobic abuse to justice,” said Hill. “As a result, two people have been jailed and more people have hate crimes on their criminal record. We have also made clear to the police that well-known homophobic slurs, could be prosecuted as a hate crime, along with any other discriminatory language.”
CPS take hate crime seriously and will always ask for harsher sentences
By Max Hill, director of public prosecutions
The beauty of football is that anyone can play. All you need is a ball, some friends, and a goal. Fans can unite anywhere in the world with a shared love of a club, country or just the game itself. It is perhaps the most inclusive sport.
This weekend saw the FA Cup back in action – a competition which encapsulates the simplicity of the game and pits Premier League giants against relative minnows. But for 90 minutes, it is a level playing field and we often see upsets, none felt more keenly by myself as a Newcastle fan with defeat by League One’s Cambridge United.
Unfortunately, we also saw the return of reports of racist and or homophobic chanting at least three cup ties: Crystal Palace vs Millwall, Spurs vs Chelsea and Reading v Cardiff City. This disgusting behaviour will never be tolerated by those who truly love the game and most of society.
The CPS has always prosecuted so-called fans who shout racist offensive comments at games including those aimed at footballers. While the pandemic forced stadiums to be empty, we saw an increase of online racial abuse of footballers. Seeing England in the final of Euro 2020 and Wales yet again performing above expectations should be an inspiration to youngsters across both nations but instead it was marred by the online racist comments towards black players who were brave enough to take penalties in a major final unlike the cowardly trolls.
My sports lead prosecutors have been responding to this growing threat by working with clubs, charities, and footballing bodies, as well as the police, to demonstrate what is needed to bring people accused of racist or homophobic abuse to justice. As a result, two people have been jailed and more people have hate crimes on their criminal record. We have also made clear to the police that well-known homophobic slurs, could be prosecuted as a hate crime, along with any other discriminatory language. Because we take hate crime so seriously, we will always ask for harsher sentences in these cases.
While the sound of chanting returning to stadiums rings a return to normality and can inspire players to perform at a higher level, racist or homophobic chanting excludes fans from enjoying the sport by demonstrating their fellow supporters are not welcome at their club. Nothing is less inclusive than that and cuts damagingly to the very heart of the game.
This year will see the Women’s Euros and the Men’s World Cup. We must make sure that the lasting memory of these two major international football tournaments is the beautiful game on the pitch, not marred by horrendous racism or homophobia witnessed in last year’s Euros. As we return to league football from cup competitions, if you see or hear any of this unacceptable behaviour, report it to the police, who will investigate. If the legal test is met, we will not hesitate to take people to court so that justice is served.