Can you tell us what happened, Balraj?
Balraj says: “At the first football camp I was eating my lunch in the changing room and three older boys cornered me, started shouting at me and said it looked like I had a snowball on my head and that I couldn’t be from England because I was brown.”
An awful experience for you. What happened next?
Balraj says: “The coach took me outside and said ‘Are those kids bullying you?’. I said yes, so when we went back in I was expecting them to stop – but I don’t think the coach had said anything because they just carried on.”
Balraj suffered verbal abuse at a second camp, then a kid grabbed his hair…
Balraj says: “I was shocked. This time I told the coach and he did something about it – but I was scared, upset and in tears. Normally I’m happy and chatty, but I was so down. All I wanted to do was stay in bed at home.”
The anti-discrimination body Kick It Out visited his school…
Balraj says: “I knew that something had to be done. I joined the equality council at school and, with the help of my headteacher, arranged for Kick It Out to come in. It just made me even more hungry to try to stop racism.”
Then Newsround got in touch about a series on racism in football – and Balraj presented on TV!
Balraj says: “I was pleased Newsround gave me this opportunity, because it meant I could finally talk about things. I was at a wedding and a young girl came up to me and said: ‘We watched all of your Newsround videos at my school!’ Then she asked for a photo!”
Balraj was then a mascot at England v Switzerland!
Balraj says: “Thanks to Kick It Out, I got to walk out with Danny Rose and high-five all the England players on my birthday! It was so amazing that I didn’t want to be sad about what had happened any more!”
What was the reaction to you being on TV?
Balraj says: “I’m lucky to have supportive friends. After the Newsround series, some year six kids came up to me saying they’d seen me on the BBC Sport website next to Lionel Messi!”
What effect has all this had on Balraj?
Balraj’s dad says: “The experiences with Kick It Out and Newsround have been great – I didn’t want him to come out of what had happened as the victim. Now he feels empowered. People are now talking about racism in football and society, which is a good thing. Football can make a difference!”
What advice would you give to people who experience racism?
Balraj says: “Don’t give up when someone has a go at you – it’s their problem, not yours. Don’t let them make you stop playing football, otherwise they’ve won. I’d also say do something about it – tell an adult, like your mum or dad or teacher. I’ve been lucky that Kick It Out and Newsround picked it up and took what happened to me seriously.”
If you’ve experienced discrimination playing football at any level, tell a parent, guardian or a coach, then report it online at kickitout.org, phone 0800 769 9414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Kick It Out is here to support you!