Black players in the England soccer team have been subjected to a storm of online racist abuse after their defeat in the final of Euro 2020, drawing wide condemnation from the squad’s manager Gareth Southgate along with royalty and politicians.
Marcus Rashford, 23, Jadon Sancho, 21, and Bukayo Saka, 19, were the targets of the abuse after they missed spot-kicks in a penalty shootout with Italy which settled Sunday’s final after the game finished as a 1-1 draw.
The comments have prompted a police investigation and wide condemnation, although critics accused some ministers of hypocrisy for refusing to support a high-profile anti-racist stance the players had made during the tournament.
The England team has earned praise for their stand against racism, while a number of players have also campaigned on other social causes. The multi-racial make-up of the squad had been hailed as reflecting a more diverse modern Britain.
The team had highlighted the issue of racism by taking the knee before all their matches – a protest made by American footballer Colin Kaepernick and followed by the Black Lives Matter movement last year – saying it was a simple show of solidarity against racial discrimination.
However, some fans have booed the gesture, with critics viewing it as a politicization of sport and an expression of sympathy with far-left politics.
Reacting to the racial slur, Southgate while briefing journalists during a new conference, decried the comments, adding that the players gave their best on the field of play.
“For some of them to be abused is unforgivable,” Southgate told a news conference. “Some of it has come from abroad, we have been told this, but some of it is from this country.”
Also speaking, Britain Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said that rather than racially abusing the players, the whole team deserves standing ovation and commendation.
“This England team deserves to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Twitter. “Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”
While Johnson himself said that the team should not be booed, his own spokesman had initially declined to criticise the fans over the issue when asked last month.
While the social media feeds of the players also showed huge levels of support and gratitude from fans for the tournament, the abuse overshadowed the positive messages.
Britain’s Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, said he was sickened. “It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour,” Queen Elizabeth’s grandson said on Twitter. “It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”
The Football Association said fans who exhibited such “disgusting behaviour” were not welcome and urged the authorities to hand out “the toughest punishments possible”.
European soccer governing body UEFA also condemned the abuse and called for the strongest possible punishments.
London Police said that officers were aware of the offensive and racist comments, and would take action. A mural of Rashford, who had campaigned for poor children to be given more support during the pandemic, was also covered in abuse.
However, a Twitter spokesperson said that they had removed more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts, saying the “abhorrent racist abuse” had no place on the platform.