The European Championships have found their conclusion. An international tournament which should remain in our minds as one of the most memorable in recent times. It had the lot. From blockbuster match-ups, heart-breaking moments, and a nail-biting closing. Euro 2020 certainly delivered. During this edition we saw how our love for the beautiful game can unite us more than ever. The truth is that football brings out the best of us, however, it could also bring out our worst.
Following the dramatic finale whereby England was beaten on penalties by Italy, the three takers who missed their respective attempts in the shootout: Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, were subjected to vile racist attacks on their social media through Instagram replies and Tweets. These cowardly attacks have since been labelled and shamed by most. The English FA has commented and so have various British and international media outlets. Other prominent people such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as well as sports stars who have gone through the same type of attacks, like 7-time Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton, have voiced their displeasure.
The psychological damage sourced from these attacks has prompted 19-year-old Bukayo Saka, who took the decisive kick of the game, to deactivate his Twitter account due to the barrage of hate he received. Jadon Sancho stood in solidarity with his teammates after he too was attacked. While, Marcus Rashford was most criticised and targeted. Yes, Marcus Rashford. The MBE who in 2020, did the UK government’s job by campaigning for starving children whose parents weren’t able to provide food for their young ones, and hence forced government to make a U-turn on its decision to stop the ‘free school meals’ program.
The young lion was targeted by Tory MPs who told him to “focus on your penalties, more than your politics”. A mural which was made for him after his efforts to help the poor communities was vandalised, and like his teammates he was also racially attacked. He delivered a very powerful apology and in response to the attacks, he stated “I’m Marcus Rashford, 23-year-old, black man from Withington and Wythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else, I have that.”
These youngsters had a huge part in this England team’s journey to reach their first final in an international tournament since 1966. They also help out their local communities, and all three stepped up to take penalties when called for, with a nation’s weight resting firmly on their shoulders, in front of the whole world. The minority who had the nerve to racially attack them instead of giving them comfort and an arm around their shoulders should be ashamed and shamed.
Social media is a dangerous tool. When used well it is a very powerful way to pass a message to the public. However, when used for malice it can severely hurt people. This wasn’t the first time that this has happened in the football world. Since social media platforms gained prominence and began to be used by most of the general public, football has struggled to address a racism problem whereby so-called “football fans” use social media to shame footballers, and if it just happens that a player is a person of colour, he has to be “sort of” ready for the vile attacks coming their way. Attacks which white players do not face. So why is this?
Social media is a dangerous tool. When used well it is a very powerful way to pass a message to the public. However, when used for malice it can severely hurt people.
Particularly in England, because England was quite a “white-dominant” country in the past, this sentiment has always been present. As time went by, racial inclusivity and equality started to be rightly introduced throughout the world. Racist remarks also became punishable by law. Through this progression, racism in the open became heavily reduced, thanks to the open-mindedness of the public and the racist minority’s fear of being fined and arrested. In sport nowadays, any racist actions, gestures or shouts, which are caught in the crowd, are arrested, fined and given lifetime bans from stadia. Unfortunately, through social media people still found a way to show their true colours. Since social media can have a sense of anonymity, racists flee to these platforms and leave their discriminatory and derogative tweets with the knowledge that the least that will happen is that their accounts become temporarily or permanently locked.
Movements like “Black Lives Matter” have been pushing social media giants like Facebook, which also ownsInstagram, to double down more on these racists and help local governments to track them down. Recently after the Euro 2020 final, a petition was made to the UK government calling for “verified ID to become a requirement for opening a social media account”. This petition racked up more than 200,000 signatures in its first 24 hours, and at the time of writing is sitting on just over 650,000 signatures. A welcome proposal that, should it be met, would aid to reduce this problem since users would be easily trackable if racist behaviour is to be committed.
Each of us must remember that these players ARE people too. No matter your race, gender or origin. These players have feelings, hopes and dreams like the rest of us. I am positive that the majority know this. Looking at the responses, most sympathised with these three heroes and criticised the racist remarks heavily. Many gave words of encouragement and positive messages to the players. After the vandalisation of Marcus Rashford’s mural in Manchester was covered, many went to stick nice messages and even thank you messages addressed to Marcus. Most notably, a young 6-year-old girl who Marcus’ campaigning affected directly, stuck a sticky note to the defaced wall with the words “Thanks for all of our dinners”. Racists are only a part of a loud minority. But it is a minority that we must strive to silence.