A Staffordshire Police Federation member is teaming up with local football clubs and organisations to help tackle hate crime ahead of the World Cup.

Having spent the past nine seasons working at Burton Albion matches, PC Rich Lymer has been assigned as the Force’s new football hate crime officer - only the third of this role to be appointed in the entire country.

As part of the job - which is currently a 12-month secondment - Rich is working with local football clubs and organisations to help prevent hate crime during the Qatar World Cup, which will be kicking off on 20 November.

“Nationally, football hate crime is a huge issue and Staffordshire is no exception,” says Rich, who has been in the police for 22 years.

“It’s been quite eye-opening seeing how much hate crime actually takes place - and it’s happening to the players, the fans, the staff, the referees.

“Discrimination is absolutely not acceptable and it’s massively important that we work together to squash such offences. Everyone has a right to play or be part of the sport and that should not be impacted by anything, whether that’s race, gender or beliefs.

“Hate crime can have such a huge impact on those who are victims, whether it’s physical or mental and I believe that we all - not just us in the police - have a duty to protect these people, as well as the game.

“Football is a sport that brings everyone together and it’s a shame for it to be ruined by such appalling abuse and discrimination.

“We’re now putting plans in place to engage with as many people as possible and educate them.”

Working with Kick It Out, an organisation launched to help combat racism in football internationally, Rich and the team at Staffordshire Police held a presentation aimed to help educate fans who admit to abusing others at matches and on social media.

“The goal is to raise awareness of what’s happening while educating people and supporting the victims,” explained Rich.

“The presentation aimed to help local clubs reach out to fans who had either abused people themselves or witnessed discrimination, in hope of changing their mindset. Education is an opportunity to change people’s views, so the abuse and discrimination doesn’t happen again - and better still, they then cascade that information to others.”

Rich said that as a Force, officers are concerned about the amount of hate crime offences increasing in the run-up to, and during the Qatar World Cup.

“I believe there needs to be pressure on social media creators, who need to take responsibility for these keyboard warriors. After all, we are moving into a hugely digital generation and our investigation strategies need to adapt to suit this,” added Rich.

“Of course, that doesn’t replace face-to-face policing. In fact, we need to be doing a combination of both, investigating those who commit cyber offences and those who offend in person. After all, if somebody is sitting behind a screen abusing somebody, what’s to say they might not then go into a pub or a school and do the same? We need to prevent this from happening, not only online but physically, in our communities.

“As we head towards the Qatar World Cup, we will be continuing to work with organisations, both nationally and locally, to ensure that we can prevent hate crime at this year’s tournament as much as possible.”