- Priya Rakkar
Racism Following the Football Finals: What Happened?
Updated: Oct 19, 2021
In our article "Racism in Football", we spoke about the racial abuse that occurred following the Euro 2020 championship. In this article, we aim to cover what happened during the game, the aftermath and the response following the game.
The Euro 2020 final was an intense game for football fans across the UK. Fans were struck by the nail-biting penalty shootout between England and Italy for the title of European Champion. However, the results of the game revealed more about the UK public than we would like to admit.
First, let’s cover what happened during the game.
England is reported to have “captured the national imagination” over the last four weeks as they managed to get to the final against Italy, a chance they have not had in a major tournament in 55 years. As the game began, the UEFA Euro reports throughout the game described the first half as “the perfect start to this Euro 2020 final for England”. However, it was a tense game with England and Italy fighting for any advantage they could get. Emotions ran high when Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini resorted to grabbing the collar of 19-year-old Bukayo Saka and pulling him to the ground.
The game ended 1-1 and they decided to go into overtime, eventually leading to a penalty shootout. Both coaches decide to substitute players. For England, Southgate chose Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford to play. In the fourth penalty, it was Marcus Rashford’s shot. Rashford unfortunately missed and struck the goal post. In the following penalty, Southgate’s other substitute, Jadon Sancho, also missed the shot, giving Italy the advantage. On Italy’s next penalty, Pickford successfully made a save, meaning the next goal loses or wins the European Championship, putting a lot of pressure on young Saka’s shoulders. Under extreme nerves, Saka misses the shot, making Italy the Euro 2020 champion with a final score of 3-2.
This game left a confounding effect on the UK, with football fans disappointed, frustrated, and outraged. Fans let out their frustration on multiple social media platforms, targeting the Black football players, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka with racial slurs.
The racial discrimination seen on social media was shocking to say the least. Immediately after the game, platforms were flooded with racial abuse towards Black football players. A mural of Rashford in Manchester was defaced with graffiti and has since been repainted. The Manchester Metropolitan police do not believe it was of a "racial nature", however many members of the public believe otherwise.
Data analysis conducted by The Guardian with ‘Hope not Hate’ found over 120 instances of racial abuse on Twitter directly targeting the England players hours after the match. The data showed that a majority of the messages contained slurs such as the n-word, and others containing monkey emojis.
Many people also felt racial discrimination had occurred on the pitch, especially when Chellini aggressively dragged Saka down by the collar in order to stop him from potentially scoring. Chellini was given a yellow card, which is a warning, rather than a red card, which is when the player must immediately leave the pitch. Fans theorised that if the roles were reversed, and Saka pulled Chellini down by the collar, he would have been given a red card, and with the evidence of racial discrimination shown, it's hard to believe that wouldn't have been the case.
None of the three players commented on the situation until the media outrage began to die down. On the 12 July 2021, one day after the match, Marcus Rashford spoke out about the racial abuse he has faced in an Instagram post. “I felt as though I had let my teammates down. I felt as though I had let everyone down … All I can say is sorry. I wish things had gone differently”. He continued by saying while he expects to read things written about himself and his actions both on and off the pitch, rightfully saying while he can “take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good enough, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from”.
Rashford ends his caption expressing gratitude for the support he has felt. “I’ve felt no prouder moment than wearing those three lions on my chest and seeing my family cheer me on in a crowd of 10s of thousands. I dreamt of days like this.” He ends with a strong message about his identity and who he is as a person. “I am Marcus Rashford, 23-year-old, black man from Withington… If I have nothing else, I have that.” In his Instagram post, he attached two photos of handwritten letters he received from young fans, who wrote about how inspiring, brave and heroic he is.
Sancho responded on Instagram three days after the game. The beginning of his response focuses on his disappointment for missing the penalty, describing it as the “worst feeling [he’s] had in [his] career”. He goes on to speak about the racial harassment targeting Sancho and his fellow teammates. “I am not going to pretend that I didn’t see the racial abuse that me and my brothers Marcus and Bukayo received after the game”.
Sancho sadly acknowledges that this is “nothing new”. He writes “As a society we need to do better and hold these people accountable” and that “hate will never win”. Sancho ends by encouraging young people who have also experienced abuse to “hold your heads up high and keep chasing your dream”.
On 15th July, Saka also responded on his Instagram. He begins by thanking everyone who has supported him: his family, fans, friends and teammates. He writes football should be about passion “people of all races, genders, religions and backgrounds coming together with one shared joy of the rollercoaster of football”.
Nearing the end of his statement, Saka addressed the social media giants, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, stating, “I don’t want any child or adult to have to receive the hateful and hurtful messages that me, Marcus and Jadon have received this week”. He says that these powerful platforms are “not doing enough to stop these messages”. He continues that there should be no place for racism in football and believes “taking action and reporting these comments to the police” is the way we will win. He ends his statement preaching “Love always wins”.
The Prime Minister’s comments
Before the Euro 2020 final, the England players decided to take a knee before the match against the Czech Republic on the 22nd June to symbolise a stand against racism. Many England fans booed the players over this decision. Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to condemn those who were abusive to the players, which caused massive frustration.
Johnson’s attitude only lowers public faith in the government to take appropriate action to condemn racial abuse. Boris tweeted on 12th July 2021, the day after the Euro final loss, “This England team deserved to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media”, he added “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves”. However, many people felt this tweet offered little support without action against it. Two days later, Boris Johnson released a statement that anyone who racially abuses footballers online will be banned from attending any matches “no ifs, no buts”.
Who spoke out?
With hundreds of counts of racial abuse, both online and in person, action was demanded to be taken against the perpetrators. The day after the match, manager of the England team, Gareth Southgate, stated the abuse they have received has been “unforgivable”. He continued, “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.” Other England fans also expressed solidarity.
The captain of the England team, Harry Kane, wrote on Twitter “They deserve support and backing not the vile racist abuse they’ve had since last night". He ended his tweet stating, “If you abuse anyone on social media, you’re not an England fan and we don’t want you.”. The Duke of Cambridge, who is President of the Football Association also described being “sickened” by the abuse: “It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour. It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”
Support for Black football players who have been racially abused in the public eye was immense. This defence came from A-list celebrities like David Beckham and Naomi Campbell.
There was a huge expression of support after the vandalism on Rashford’s mural in Manchester. Members of the public added tributes to Rashford creating a colourful display of England flags, heart cut outs and letters to combat the racial abuse. Rashford posted a picture of the tribute on his Instagram captioned, “the response in Withington had me on the verge of tears”.
Saka was also in shock when Arsenal, Saka’s previous club, presented him with a wall of hundreds of supportive messages sent by fans. The 19-year-old was reported as being “speechless”, asking “who to thank for all this”.
Support was also expressed online with online advertisements posting pictures of Sancho, Rashford and Saka together with the caption ‘We stand with our three lions’.
Social media platforms
It was reported Twitter removed almost 2000 racist and abusive tweets in the 24 hours following the Euro 2020 final. They also revealed that the UK were “by far” the main source of offensive comments after the match. Twitter stated that 1,622 tweets were removed during the final, rising to 1,961 three days after the game. Many supportive fans believed in order to prevent the abuse perpetrators must be held accountable as online platforms provide anonymity.
However, Twitter believed that verification “would have been unlikely to prevent the abuse” as it was reported 99% of banned accounts were identifiable. Twitter has suggested releasing an “auto-block” tool that would hide messages and possibly accounts that use offensive language. They also acknowledged the need to make the platform safer for everybody. “Our aim is always that Twitter be used as a vehicle for every person to communicate safely - be it in highlighting injustice or giving a voice to those communities who have been historically under-represented,” Twitter UK said.
What was done to combat the racial abuse?
Following criticism of the way Boris Johnson handled England fans booing the players when kneeling before the match, Boris has since released another statement following the loss at the Euro 2020 final. Johnson writes "I was appalled by the abhorrent abuse directed towards a number of our footballers in the aftermath of Sunday's game. More must be done to prevent people being bullied and trolled online." However, Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, believes the PM’s words rang “hollow” and states “[Boris] can't have it both ways” on racism.
The government has promised to ban those who abuse footballers online, with a penalty of up to 10 years. The government wrote that new laws will be introduced to “force social media companies to take responsibility and action”.
The government also stated that they are “working closely with football and police authorities to track and take action against online abusers the same way as if they have committed these offences on our streets.” This action may have been taken after an online petition calling for the FA and the government to ban racial abusers from football grounds for life gained over one million signatures.
What happens now?
As of the 6th July 2021, 11 people have been arrested for hate crimes through social media messaging. The UK Football Policing Unit received 600 reports of racial comments, with 207 deemed as criminal. These arrests were a suspicion of malicious communications or a breaching of section 127 of the Communications Act 2003, which includes sending “grossly offensive” or “menacing” messages. The malicious communications offences can carry a penalty of up to two years. Police say that those who think they can hide behind a screen should “think again”. It was also reported three people were arrested on ‘suspicion of inciting racial hatred’, which can carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison. The National Police Chief’s Council Football Policing said the investigation stated a “vast amount of work” went into identifying the eleven offenders.
Tackling of racial abuse is an extremely complex topic with perpetrators getting away with offences all too often. The recent news shows that racial abuse is something that is finally getting the consequences it deserves. We can only hope with the regulation of social media platforms, it only improves to create a safe and welcoming space for people of colour who have a passion for sport.
For more articles and resources on this topic, head to our Racism, Islamophobia & Antisemitism section.
Edited by Abbie Harby