Are football clubs liable for the online racist abuse of their players?
In March 2022, the Premier League reported that over the preceding 12 months it had conducted over 400 investigations into online abuse targeted at players and their families; and a man was recently sentenced to six weeks in jail for sending a racist tweet to Marcus Rashford following England's defeat in the Euro 2020 Final. April 2021 saw players taking direct action in a social media boycott. This comes on the one-year anniversary of the Premier League's No Room for Racism Action Plan.
This article considers the legal responsibilities of football clubs for online racist abuse and what practical steps might be taken to combat it. Specifically, it looks at:
- The law on third-party harassment
- Historic position – Sections 40(2)-(4) of the Equality Act 2010
- Current position – Unite the Union v Nailard
- Is reform on the horizon?
- Potential liability for third-party harassment – wider considerations
- How Can Stakeholders Best Address The Issue?
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Charlotte is a Director in the employment team at Walker Morris. She acts for a number of Premier League and Football League clubs and agents. She advises on all aspects of the employment relationship and regularly acts for clubs in respect of employment litigation, including player and manager related disputes and arbitration proceedings, along with employment tribunal claims. Clients value Charlotte's in depth-understanding of their businesses and her ability to 'balance the commercial and legal requirements' when providing advice (Legal 500).
Adam is an Associate in the employment team at Walker Morris. He specialises in employment law with a focus on the sports sector and football in particular, advising clients on both contentious and non-contentious matters.