The Westminster Diocesan Chaplain for Sport is calling on political and sporting leaders to speak out against discrimination and appeal for unity.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann’s call comes as Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, revealed a dramatic rise in discrimination incidents.
In its mid-season report, Kick It Out said the professional game in England had seen a 75 per cent rise in the number of incidents it had seen reported, compared to the same stage of the 2016/17 campaign.
The equality and inclusion campaign group said overall figures showed it had received over 300 reports relating to 282 incidents of discriminatory abuse by the end of 2017, with those figures also including complaints regarding grassroots football and social media.
It said that was a 59 per cent leap from last season, when 177 incidents were reported to it during the corresponding period.
Mgr Felzmann, who is also CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, told The Universe that he has sensed a growing discomfort in communities over the past few years.
He cited a number of examples, including confrontational behaviour on the Tube and the spike in abusive messages sent to politicians.
“This has spilt over into football,” he warned.
“Currently, society is fragmenting into ‘we are right’ therefore ‘you are wrong – and thus bad, worthy of attack’,” he told The Universe.
“Society’s unhappiness will pass,” he continued. “Until it does, spiritual, sporting and political leaders need to emphasise that we are, underneath it all, united in our common humanity: Children of the same Creator God.”
Kick It Out’s figures showed racist behaviour dominated the complaints, constituting 54 per cent of all reports.
Lord Ouseley, Kick It Out chairman, said football faces “a wake-up call” and challenged authorities to react. He said the statistics come against the backdrop of rising hatred in society, as recently shown in Community Security Trust’s publication of reported antisemitic incidents. “Ultimately, tackling discrimination must be a collective effort,” he said.
“The leaders across all sections of society and football, as well as the broader public and football supporters themselves, need to take action, report discrimination and help us eradicate hatred.”
Mgr Felzmann said: “We may be more of a salad than a soup, but we should not just tolerate but celebrate the differences, seeing them as mutually life-enriching rather than a threat.
“Once Brexit has passed, Great Britain might be smaller, but it can still be the best place to live, as together we can move forward building a better future for the next generation; in football as in much else.”
This weekend’s FA Cup Fifth Round fixtures:
Saturday 17th February
Sheffield Wednesday v Swansea City – 12:30pm
Brighton & Hove Albion v Coventry City – 3:00pm
West Bromwich Albion v Southampton – 3:00pm
Huddersfield Town v Manchester United – 5:30pm
Sunday 18th February
Rochdale v Tottenham Hotspur – 4:00pm
Monday 19th February
Wigan Athletic v Manchester City – 7:55pm
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Picture: A general view of a football being held against a Kick it out campaign t-shirt. (Richard Sellers/PA).