West Midlands Police appoints UK's first dedicated football hate crime officer

Monday 11th January 2021 10:00 GMT

PC Stuart Ward will be based in a football unit and lead their efforts to stamp out the issue, which has become increasingly prevalent online, with his force saying his role offers "greater ability to investigate offences".

The 34-year-old, who is mixed race, was the victim of racism while playing for a junior football team aged 11 and believes his understanding of its impact will ensure he can provide support to victims.

"It came from another player and the thing that stuck with me was how no-one did anything about it, other than my mum who stopped the game and took me off the pitch," said PC Ward.

"There were parents, match officials, the other players - who were old enough to know right from wrong - who didn't challenge the comments or support me.

"So having sadly been subjected to discrimination I know the feelings and the impact it can have on you.

"I feel I'm in a position where I can offer help and support, while looking to take action against those involved."

Last season there were 287 reported hate crime incidents connected to matches in England and Wales.

Kick It Out, football's equality and inclusion organisation, revealed there was a 42 per cent rise in reports of discrimination during the 2019/20 campaign.

Hate crime can cover a range of offences including abuse connected to race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, or transgender / gender identity.

PC Ward's role will include investigating complaints of hate crime linked to football, monitoring online interactions, and working with the region's clubs across both professional and amateur level.

He will also be going into schools to educate children around discrimination, work with other anti-discrimination bodies such as Kick It Out and monitor any offences when stadiums re-open following the Covid-19 pandemic.

"We need to change this culture, we're a multi-cultural society and it's important we educate people around hate crime to stop it happening." PC Ward added.

"Clearly, we'll look to take enforcement action too and won't hesitate to take people to court where appropriate."

Sgt Lizzie Lewandowski, of the West Midlands Police football unit, added: "It's incredibly sad to see football - a game for everyone - being used by some to fuel hate crime.

"Abusing a footballer or another fan for the colour of their skin, sexual orientation, for having a disability or their religion can never be confused for 'banter'.

"We've seen a rise in unacceptable vitriol online - particularly since stadiums have been empty - and it's a real focus for us, alongside our ongoing intervention and prevention work with clubs.

"We hope the appointment of Stuart as a dedicated hate crime officer will help put us at the forefront of changing, challenging and stopping such appalling behaviour."

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