Romaine Sawyers urges players to report hate crime after fan jailed

A professional footballer has urged his fellow players to report the abuse hurled at them to police as one of his own club’s supporters was jailed for eight weeks for racially abusing him.

West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers spoke as 50-year-old Simon Silwood was sentenced on Thursday, having earlier been found guilty of what prosecutors called a “grossly offensive racial hate crime”. Silwood posted several messages on social media targeting Sawyers because he is black.

“The whole incident has left me extremely upset. I find it difficult to believe that in 2021 there are still people out in society who believe it is acceptable to behave like this,” Sawyers told Birmingham magistrates court.

Silwood was convicted last month at Walsall magistrates court after posting messages referring to Sawyers deserving the “Baboon d’Or” – a sarcastic reference to the prize handed to the world’s best male footballer each year, the Ballon d’Or. The court heard he also posted “white lives matter when you try and watch”.

In a statement prepared for the hearing, the footballer said he had seen the posts while reporting a separate instance of racial abuse on social media.

“As I read it, I felt numb and did not know what to say. Having seen the word baboon, I assumed it was referring to the colour of my skin. The word has left me feeling harassed, alarmed and distressed, and I find the message to be racist based on the colour of my skin.”

He added: “Racial abuse towards anyone, in any circumstance, is totally unacceptable, and I hope this case will serve as a deterrent to others. This is an incident that has affected me deeply, but I would like to encourage fellow players to report all racial abuse to the police.

“We must together stand strong in order to rid the game, and wider society, of this hideous behaviour. It is widely accepted that social media companies must do more to stop the publication of racism on their platforms. I again urge them to take the necessary action required to prevent anyone from receiving the abuse I experienced.

“It is important we all remain vigilant in the fight against racism, so please, if you are aware of racism, it is essential you report it.”

Passing sentence, the district judge Briony Clarke said Silwood was guilty of a serious offence. She added: “There is no place for racism or racist abuse online. This clearly in my view crosses the custody threshold. I assess the remorse you have for your actions as very minimal indeed. In my view, [the offence] falls into the category of greatest harm.”

Silwood had denied the allegations but was found not to be a credible witness. He was ordered to pay a £128 victim surcharge and a total of £1,000 in costs and compensation.

The charges levelled at him followed an investigation carried out by PC Stuart Ward, who is the UK’s first dedicated hate crime officer within a football unit.