'Appalling,' 'unforgivable': Online racist abuse of England players sparks indignation

England's manager Gareth Southgate embraces Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during of the Euro 2020 final match at Wembley stadium in London,  July 11, 2021.
England's manager Gareth Southgate embraces Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during of the Euro 2020 final match at Wembley stadium in London, July 11, 2021. Copyright Carl Recine/AP
By Euronews with AP
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Online racist abuse of England players who missed penalties in England's loss to Italy sparked a wave of indignation in the UK and beyond. Is racism in football on the rise and how can we tackle it?


British police opened investigations on Monday after three Black players who missed penalties in England's defeat to Italy in the Euro 2020 final received torrents of racist abuse online.

"This abuse is totally unacceptable, it will not be tolerated and it will be investigated," the Metropolitan police said in a statement.

The racist comments have sparked indignation throughout the nation.

In a statement, the English Football Association (FA) said it was “appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.”

“We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible,” the FA said.

England coach Gareth Southgate called the abuse directed at the players “unforgivable.”

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue,” Southgate said on Monday.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also condemned the racist incidents in strong terms.

“Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he said on Twitter.

Tackling the problem

In an earlier statement, the FA urged the government to enact new legislation to tackle the problem.

“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore the government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real-life consequences."

The FA as well as London Mayor Sadiq Khan also called upon social media platforms to show greater accountability.

But according to sociologist and football expert Ellis Cashmore, further regulations on social media may not be the answer.

Instead, the honorary professor of sociology at Aston University and author of "Studying Football" says it would be more effective for football authorities to firmly sanction clubs that tolerate racist remarks and for sponsors to withdraw sponsorships.

'Majority of football fans oppose racism'

Cashmore told Euronews that the type of racism that existed in the football fields in the 1970's and and 1980's in the UK have "disappeared" and "been replaced by a different form of racism on social media."

"The racism that used to exist historically in the 20th century was physically present. In other words, every time a black player set foot on a field of play, there would be boos and racist chants. Some people would throw bananas and it would be hell on earth for any black player, not occasionally but every single game," the expert told Euronews.

"And gradually it died away because, in the 1980s, there were so many terrifically good black players that it became ridiculous for fans to be heckling and jeering players who were so evidently brilliant."

"Britain like the rest of Europe has not just learned to live with cultural diversity, but it has welcomed it. It has welcomed it in the main, in every sport, including football," Cashmore went on.


However, he said, a "minority" "use their phones or their tablets and their laptops for spewing racist messages."

Similar racist abuse was reported in France where an investigation is underway after Les Bleus lost on penalties to Switzerland in the round of 16.

"For all we know, they may not even be football fans. They're just people who are piggybacking on football to express their racist views. And it makes it even more difficult to tackle," Cashmore said.

"We have no way of knowing the scale, the number of people who are perpetrating the racism," the scholar noted, adding that just a dozen could be behind the messages "and encouraging them to circulate going viral, in other words, give the appearance that we have a problem of monstrous proportions."

"I think the majority of football fans oppose racism and would like to see a more effective fight against racism," he told Euronews.


Controversy over taking the knee

Last month, PM Johnson's spokesman said the prime minister is “more focused on action rather than gestures.” The comment sparked criticism that the prime minister was effectively encouraging those booing to carry on.

Three days later, his spokesman backtracked, saying Johnson “respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices” and that he wanted to cheer the team on and "not boo.”

“The prime minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who are trying to promote equality and defend against racism,” said Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player and now a TV commentator in an interview to Sky News.

“It starts at the very top and so for me I wasn't surprised in the slightest that I woke up this morning to those headlines."

According to Cashmore, who has interviewed a sample of about 2,000 England football fans, a majority is against taking the knee but this does not mean that they are endorsing racism, he told Euronews.


"I have been persuaded by the research that the media has just got it wrong," the football expert told Euronews.

"The research that we've been doing indicates it's because they [fans] feel that football is taking the knee instead of fighting racism. It's becoming a ritualistic alternative so that football authorities can say, well, we're fighting against racism at the same time, not doing anything in a practical way."

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