A landmark ruling has seen a man who racially abused Brentford striker Ivan Toney on social media banned from every stadium in the country. Antonio Neill, 24, pleaded guilty to sending an offensive message in October last year and in court in Newcastle yesterday was handed a four-month suspended sentence. Neill was also given a three-year football banning order, the first of its kind to be issued under new legislation introduced last year for online hate crimes.
Brentford released a statement expressing their satisfaction with the outcome of the case: “We are pleased to see the Antonio Neill case resolved and that Northumbria Police pursued this to a conclusion. Court appearances set a strong precedent for anyone else who commits hate crimes, and it is our hope that sentences increase in severity until this sort of crime is eradicated.”
The statement went on to condemn the racial abuse directed at Toney: “Ivan Toney has been subject to sickening racist abuse on a regular basis, and we want to see tough action taken against anyone found guilty of such abuse. The club firmly believes there is no place for racial abuse in football and we continue to support and implement a zero-tolerance policy towards discriminatory behaviour of any kind.”
The statement concluded by calling upon social media companies to take responsibility for removing hate speech from their platforms: “All authorities have their role to play in this and we, again, call upon the social media companies to make their platforms safe for all participants and to remove all hateful content.”
The case against Neill is a significant development in the fight against online hate crimes, particularly those targeted at footballers. The use of a football banning order to prevent him from attending any stadium in the country sets an important precedent and highlights the importance of treating online hate crimes as seriously as those committed in person.
Toney himself has been a vocal advocate for change in this area, recently taking part in a social media boycott in protest at the lack of action being taken to combat online hate. Speaking to Sky Sports News after the boycott, Toney said: “I think we need to keep going and keep pushing to eradicate it from society, not just from football. If we can get it out of society then we can start looking towards football.”
While the outcome of the Neill case is a positive step forward, there is still much work to be done to eradicate racial abuse from football and wider society. The continued efforts of players like Toney, and the support of clubs and authorities, will be crucial in achieving this goal.