The love we have for football is indisputable. It is amazing how a sport can have such an influence on people’s lives: some would spend days stressing out before an upcoming final, some would be left despondent for a good whole week following a lost, some would even treat it as a kind of religion. The passion of these people need not be questioned.
But there is a fine line between being passionate and outright racist in football.
The Euro 2020 final between England and Italy came down to a dramatic, nail-biting penalty shootout. The stakes were unbearably high: England have waited 55 years, ever since their World Cup win in 1966, for an international trophy; not only that, but they have also never won the Euro (European Championship) before. And the immense pressure unfortunately seemed to have gotten to the England team. Three young English players — Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka — all failed to convert their respective penalty, ending England’s historical run with a lost, when glory was already within touching distance. It was devastating for the whole nation, whose fans have invested so much hope in finally being able to see their country lift a trophy in their lifetime.
However, that disappointment (or anything, for that matter) cannot justify the reactions of some of the fans.
Bukayo Saka's reaction after missing his penalties. Photo Source: REUTERS/Paul Ellis
A large number of racist slurs and insults began to flood the three players’ social media immediately after the games. Twitter has reportedly had to delete more than 1,000 tweets containing racist content. The abuse these players have been receiving — when they should have been rightfully lauded as heroes for helping their country to its first ever European final — are frankly unacceptable.
Marcus Rashford, 23, who has helped raised £20 million for a food poverty charity, preventing approximately 1.7 million children from going hungry while schools were shut down during the pandemic, was heavily attacked.
Jadon Sancho, 21, who has given back to his community in South London through building a new football pitch for young footballers, was heavily attacked.
Bukayo Saka, 19 (the youngest out of the three), who has been impressive throughout the tournament and has played his heart out for his country, was heavily attacked.
Unfortunately, they were not the only victims. Many users on Twitter have shared videos of violence erupting between fans, with fans from Italy suffering physical attacks from England fans. One video even recorded an Italian being thrown into River Thames.
These behaviors have since been condemned by many, from both within the nation and the international community. England manager Gareth Southgate has described these fans’ actions as “unforgiveable”. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called out the abuse as “appalling”. The FA has publicly voiced their strong disapproval. England captain Harry Kane and other England players have stood up for their teammates on social media. Famous footballers such as Paul Pogba and Erling Haaland have also spoken. But, ultimately, would this really do anything?
Racism is not new — not in football, nor in history in general. However, the emergence of social media has made inciting racist behaviors a lot easier: when anyone can easily and freely make their voice heard online, it is no surprise that the number of race-related incidents has been ever-rising. There have been numerous efforts made to combat this issue — from players taking the knee to promote anti-racism, to the Premier League and its clubs boycotting social media companies to pressure them to take firmer action — and they all deserve to be acknowledged. It is clear, however, that these actions are still not enough. We will need mutual cooperation and determination, and yet even stronger responses if we want to have a chance at winning against racism. We must make it known to those perpetrators that the consequences of their actions will not just be mere ‘condemnations’.
Racism in football has negatively affected the mental health of footballers and fans alike. And it shall continue to overshadow the love from the good fans and taint the beauty of this beautiful game until we decide to tackle it seriously and decisively.
Let’s hope this incident will serve as a final wake up call.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0eix2YAn6k (footage of England fans’ physical attacks on Italy fans)
Cover Photo Credit: Mangtre Team