WMP appoints UK’s first football hate crime officer
West Midlands Police (WMP) has become the first force in the country to appoint a dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit.
Police Constable Stuart Ward will use his personal experience of racist abuse to lead efforts to tackle hate crime within the sport. He will be at the forefront of the football unit’s work to stamp out rising abuse against footballers and fans – which has become increasingly prevalent online – with the designated role giving WMP a greater ability to investigate offences.
PC Ward says he was the victim of racism as a young footballer himself so understands the emotional impact of abuse. It means he can provide support to victims while knowing what they are going through.
The 34-year-old said: “I’m mixed race and growing up I was racially abused. I remember being 11 years old and playing football for a junior side. 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.
“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.”
The role will include investigating complaints of hate crime linked to football, monitoring online interactions and working with the region’s clubs. This includes both professional and amateur level to highlight what is an offence and the importance of reporting it.
PC Ward will also be going into schools to educate children around discrimination – continuing the on side youth and yellow card intervention and prevention programmes – and link in with other bodies such as football’s equality and inclusion organisation Kick It Out.
In addition he will work alongside other members of WMP’s football unit to monitor any offences when stadiums re-open following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hate crime can cover a range of offences, including abuse connected to race, sexual orientation, disability, religion or gender.
Last season there were 287 reported hate crime incidents connected to matches in England and Wales. Kick It Out also revealed there were was a 42 per cent rise in reports of discrimination last season.
PC Ward said: “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. Clearly, we’ll look to take enforcement action too and won’t hesitate to take people to court where appropriate.
“I’ve spent 12 years as a response officer – along with some time as a football spotter – and I’m proud to have been given the role as dedicated football hate crime officer. I enjoy the game and want everyone else, whatever their background, to feel comfortable in doing so too.”
Sergeant Lizzie Lewandowski, of the 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.”