Marvin Bartley has vowed that he won’t be deterred from fighting against racism after revealing some of the abuse he has received for speaking out about the issue.
The Livingston player and assistant manager, who is also an equalities advisor to the Scottish FA, was the subject of direct racist abuse after giving his thoughts on Rangers’ controversial match against Sparta Prague last week.
During the game, a home crowd of 10,000 Czech schoolchildren and their chaperones repeatedly booed Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara. Last season, Slavia Prague and Czech Republic defender Ondrej Kudela was banned for ten matches after UEFA found him to be guilty of racially abusing Kamara.
Bartley shared his feelings on social media at the time, saying that the children were “placed in a bowl with rotten fruit”. Czech Republic foreign minister Jakub Kulhanek objected to the comments, and Bartley received further offensive racial abuse on social media that he shared to demonstrate the extent of the problem.
Asked how the comments made him feel, he told STV that he had become used to taking it.
“I’m kind of disengaged with them, I have to be honest,” he said. “I have to be. I’m emotionally disengaged with messages that I receive on social media, when it’s of a racial thing.
“If I’m not… I’ve had sleepless nights over it before. I can’t afford to go back there.
“On the flipside, I can’t stop doing what I’m doing and trying to do.
“It’s hard, it’s upsetting, but I would rather these messages came to me rather than somebody else who maybe isn’t in the same mental space as me, or doesn’t deal with it the way I do. That’s kind of why I’m at the forefront of things at this moment in time.”
In his role as a player and coach, as well as working as a TV pundit, Bartley has become a recognisable figure and has been a campaigner for equality. He said that means he gets targeted every time he speaks on the subject of racism, and that he expected flak after Czech foreign minister Kulhanek drew attention to his comments.
“Yeah, it’s every time,” he said. “And that’s another thing. I expected it.
“There was no surprise to me. As soon as I made a comment, as soon as the foreign minister of the Czech Republic made his comments, I knew it was coming.
“His comments upset me because he changed the narrative of what I was saying. He knew what he was doing, he’s an intelligent man.
“What I wrote was pretty self-explanatory and he made it sound as if I was coming for the country as a whole, which is not the case.
“It was the situation I was talking about, and that could happen in Czech Republic, it could happen in England, it could happen in Scotland.
“Children are a product of their environment. When adults are around them saying certain things, children will pick it up. If they’re encouraged to do it then children will do that.
“That’s just the world we live in at this moment in time, that he thought it was okay to go on Twitter and say these things. If he thought I was being that way, he could have contacted me already as he has tried to do with the Scottish FA.”
UEFA have opened an investigation into the events in Prague, while the behaviour of fans in Prague has been condemned by many,
Bartley feels there is a lot more to be done to tackle the problem, and believes that social media companies could take the first major step by introducing verification to avoid anonymous users using hate speech. But while work continues to eradicate the problem, he insists he won’t be deterred by those who choose to target him for abuse.
“There’s an awful lot of work to be done,” he said. “I understand that and probably didn’t realise the severity of the problem until I first got involved.
“But as I said, it’s not going to stop me. I can deal with these messages.
“I say these things and I can deal with the messages coming back.
“I want to make a change. I’ve done reasonably well on the pitch throughout my career. I’m now lucky enough to be assistant manager at this football club, but when I leave Scotland I want my legacy to be known for what I’ve done for society.
“I don’t want the next Marvin Bartley to come through and have to deal with the things I’ve had to deal with. That’s why I’m on the journey I’m on at this moment in time.”