Does English Football have a problem with Extremism?

Open to Everyone
Free to Attend


Dr Mark Doidge

Principal Research Fellow at the University of Brighton, School of Sport and Health Sciences

Dr Paul Hyland

Football Writer, PhD - University of Cambridge

Dr Paul Ian Campbell

Sociology Lecturer and Chair of the University of Leicester Race Equality Action Group

Nikoleta Gashi

Research Fellow and Project Coordinator, Dialogue Society

Historically, football has been an arena for rivalries to play out. Charged, alcohol-fuelled and with a predominantly male following, football games, at both a club and national level, have been fertile ground for social divisions as well as social bonds. The latest survey conducted by YouGov in 2021, revealed that sixty two percent of match-attending fans feared a player would be racially abused at a game and a further seventy-three per cent of ethnically diverse fans were concerned about racial abuse in stadiums. Social media platforms, as anonymity-awarding spaces are also facilitating the spread of hatred online, as seen after England’s loss in the Euro 2020 final when three black-British players were subjected to abhorrent abuse on Twitter and Instagram.

But, in an age where football is the most diverse it has ever been, where some of the best English footballing talents are of mixed ethnicity and when there is a multicultural trend in club and international European football, why is it that xenophobia, anti-Semitism, hooliganism and Islamophobia continue to prevail?

  • Should acts of xenophobia, hooliganism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia be considered forms of extremism and if so, should we move away from security-oriented notions of the term?
  • Why do these behaviours emerge in football? What is it about the footballing ‘space’ or the sport that means these behaviours take place?
  • What is the psychology behind fanatic behaviour that turns abusive or extreme?
  • What can be done to combat or curtail these acts?
  • Can we use the game as a reaction to these acts? If so, what role can football play in understanding and combatting hate crime and extremist activity?
  • This panel will seek to illuminate the recent issues regarding racist abuse in football which emerged in public discourse as a result of Euro 2020, including examining English Football’s long history of hooliganism. It will also seek to answer whether the current notion of extremism ought to be expanded to account for other forms of hatred and abuse that prevail in the space of football.
Does English Football have a problem with Extremism?

Panel Series: A Spatial Analysis of Extremism in a UK Context

Dialogue Society is pleased to announce a six-part online panel series “A Spatial Analysis of Extremism in a UK Context” to examine some of the key and complex issues the UK faces from pre-existing and emerging forms of radicalisation and extremism in spaces across our society. In 2019, the UK saw 67 far-right terror attacks and plots, compared with 7 in France and 3 in Germany. These attacks were the highest recorded number in Europe. With growing concern over increasing hatred, radicalisation, and extremism in the UK; from prisons to schools, online and offline platforms, the threat of extremism has shown that it knows no geographical, ethnic, age, social, or religious boundaries. Extremist acts pose a threat to the cohesion of communities in Britain and raise questions about the effects that these acts will have on changing or even restricting the nature of British democracy.

Using case studies of pre-existing and emerging forms of extremism across society, this panel series expects to answer through dialogue the following questions:

  1. What is extremism, and do we need a new or expanded definition of the term?
  2. In which new or changing spaces are there new forms of extremism emerging?
  3. What are the government’s methods and policies for tackling current and emerging forms of extremism?
  4. Is there room for revision or improvement in the government’s methods and policies?
  5. Do online platforms facilitate the spread of forms of extremism and if so, how?
  6. How effective are the current laws surrounding online extremism?
  7. How, if any, should social media platforms be regulated to prevent extremism online?
  8. How do the challenges posed by these forms of extremism and hatred affect British democracy, fundamental human rights, and freedoms?

This panel series will build on the Dialogue Society’s previous works on extremism and radicalisation.

The first panel in the series “The challenges of defining and perceiving extremism in a UK context” will firstly review and evaluate the current definition of extremism proposed by the UK Government, before policies on combatting extremism are introduced and evaluated for their efficacy.

The following next three panels focus on pre-existing, emerging, or changing forms of extremism in football, climate change activism, and prisons. These panels will review and evaluate relevant policies and methods adopted by the Government to address the new forms of extremism in new or changing spaces. They will also discuss whether the government’s current definition of extremism is adequate for addressing these trends.

Lastly, the online dimension to extremism, used as both a primary or faciliatory method to carrying out extremism will be unpacked before the challenges of legislating and regulating these mediums are outlined.

Reflections and recommendations will be submitted from our panellists in each panel.

The culmination of this series will be the writing and publication of a policy paper using the interdisciplinary discussions raised by our experts.