England fan group responds to offensive message claims

LONDON (AP) — An England supporters group says it is committed to inclusivity in response to allegations some of its members sent discriminatory messages on social media.

Block 109 is a group of soccer fans which describes itself as intent on improving the atmosphere at Wembley Stadium when the national team is playing, and also organizes away travel.

But members have been accused of posting offensive material in its WhatsApp group including a photograph with a derogatory reference to Arabs.

The group said the picture was actually in reference to Scottish team Dundee United fans, who call themselves “Arabs,” and was “not intended to be racially offensive.”

In a statement Block 109 said it wanted to address claims of “antisemitic, racist and homophobic" comments made on WhatsApp.

"Block 109 is England fan community group, built on improving inclusivity amongst England fans and the support of our team, stretching across the UK and beyond. This is demonstrated by our large membership (over 300 members), spanning fans of different genders, races, sexual orientations and backgrounds.

“Through being a sizeable and diverse supporters organization, Block 109 has had to, on a small number of occasions, tackle issues and clashes — not unlike any other organization with similar traits. These issues have been escalated through the appropriate routes & organisations to ensure just outcomes are reached.”

Members of the group will be in Qatar for the World Cup and the group is planning a supporters’ event in Doha during the tournament.

The group says it is not aware of any investigations by the English Football Association.

“We investigate all allegations of poor behavior by England Supporters’ Travel Club members where the allegations could constitute a breach of the rules and have, when necessary, issued sanctions against members," the FA said. "We also refer any allegation of racism to the police.”

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James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson

The Associated Press