England soccer players confront racist abuse head-on

London — Members of England’s national soccer team are speaking out against racist abuse directed at three Black players after England’s loss to Italy in the European Championship finals Sunday night. Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka helped carry the England team through the tournament, but they missed penalty shots in the final match against Italy, and have been the targets of a torrent of racist abuse online.

“Three lads who were brilliant all summer had the courage to step up & take a pen when the stakes were high. They deserve support & backing not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night. If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an @England fan and we don’t want you,” England’s team captain Harry Kane tweeted.

Italy v England - UEFA Euro 2020: Final
Bukayo Saka of England is consoled by Head Coach Gareth Southgate after his penalty miss during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Final between Italy and England at Wembley Stadium on July 11, 2021 in London. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

“Seeing my brothers being racially abused for being brave enough to put themselves in a position to help this country, is something that sickens, but doesn’t surprise me. We have literally made history. We’ve gone where no one else has gone. Take that in,” said Tyrone Mings, another England team player.

The manager of the England team, Gareth Southgate, called the abuse “unforgivable,” and London’s Metropolitan Police said they would investigate.

“We are aware of a number of offensive and racist social media comments being directed towards footballers following the #Euro2020 final. This abuse is totally unacceptable, it will not be tolerated and it will be investigated,” the police said in a statement on Twitter.

U.K. leaders accused of hypocrisy

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Players kneel down against racism before the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium in London on June 18, 2021. Getty Images

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel, who both made statements condemning the abuse after the final, are being accused of hypocrisy.

England’s soccer players started taking the knee at the start of matches in March last year, after the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the European Football Championship tournament, players from the England team continued to take the knee at the start of matches to protest racial inequality. Sometimes spectators could be heard booing the gesture. 

Earlier in the tournament, Johnson was criticized for not immediately condemning the booing, though he eventually said the crowds should “cheer, not boo.”

Patel, however, whose role in the government puts her in charge of law enforcement, said she didn’t support players taking the knee, and that people should have the right to boo it. 

“I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent,” she said earlier this summer.

After the England players were subjected to racist abuse online following the Sunday match, Patel put out a statement of condemnation.

“I am disgusted that @England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media. It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable,” she tweeted on Monday.

But England player Mings said Patel was being inconsistent.

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens,” Mings said.

Other members of Johnson and Patel’s conservative party made similar statements.

“Priti -we as govt, as @Conservatives need to think about our role in feeding this culture in our country,” Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a member of the House of Lords and former co-chair of the Conservative Party, tweeted. “If we ‘whistle’ & the ‘dog’ reacts we cant be shocked if it barks & bites. It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division. Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.”

Outpouring of support

Defaced Mural Of Marcus Rashford Repaired By The Artist In Manchester
A defaced mural of Marcus Rashford is repaired by the artist Akse P19 on July 13, 2021 in Manchester, England. Alex Livesey / Getty Images

Late on Sunday and early on Monday, some supporters tried to drown out the online racist abuse by flooding the three players’ Instagram accounts with positive comments, and reporting the abusive ones.

Twitter reportedly said it had deleted over 1,000 tweets and suspended a number of accounts.

“The abhorrent racist abuse last night has absolutely no place on Twitter,” a spokesperson said, according to media reports.

Facebook, which owns Instagram, said in a statement that “it quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules,” according to reports.

A mural of England player Marcus Rashford in his home neighborhood of Withington, Manchester, was covered in positive messages of support on Tuesday after it was vandalized following the match.

“The messages I’ve received today have been positively overwhelming and seeing the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears,” Rashford said on Instagram. “The communities that always wrapped their arms around me continue to hold me up. I’m Marcus Rashford, 23 year old, black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that.”