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Can psychology help tackle racism within the beautiful game?

08 April 2022

Psychology has a role to play in helping both the victims and perpetrators of abuse, according to the author of new research into the ‘exponential growth’ of social media-based racism in English football.

As social media platforms develop at a rate that research struggles to keep up with, psychologists also have the opportunity to try to plug the gaps in knowledge which could help tackle racism in the beautiful game, says Oliver Twizell.

A member of the BPS, Mr Twizell has written a paper providing a critical review of the literature on social media-based racism within elite male football through the lens of applied psychology.

Racism is still rife within English football but has found a new home online, and the cloak of anonymity in cyber space can lead to ‘widespread abhorrent views towards others’, the paper states.

We will only be able to enhance our understanding of this phenomenon by looking at it holistically, it says, adding that applied psychology, with its humanistic approach to therapy and focus on social justice, could provide significant strides in the development of research in this field.

Areas for further investigation highlighted include:

  • How and why people feel morally and psychologically free hiding behind the anonymity of cyber space
  • The behaviour which leads to certain sites being monopolised by groups which creates ‘exclusivity’’ and symbolising them as ‘white-only spaces’

The paper also highlights the importance of researching and working to understand perpetrators of online racial abuse, adding, ‘the literature is inconsistent as to whether punishment, education or training should be the preferred approach…’ to dealing with them.

Mr Twizell believes, alongside punitive measures, education is a ‘step in the right direction’. He said:

“If you just alienate people, you do not get the progress you hope for.

Understanding the perpetrators and where they are coming from can lead to more effective dialogue, engagement and insight into approaches that can bring benefits for society as a whole.

We as a profession, working from a non-judgemental perspective, can be the set of ears for someone who has not been listened to before.”

Therapeutic support for victims was also essential, Mr Twizell added, with psychologists, in their varying roles, well placed to offer a range of interventions.

“However, there may be a need for us as a profession to provide greater clarity about the differing psychology disciplines and the value each can provide, because the message I have often heard from people seeking psychological support is that it is really confusing, and they don’t know what this support looks like practically.”oweveHHH

This paper is published in the latest issue of the Sport and Exercise Psychology Review.

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