The Prime Minister had previously defended spectators who jeered at players as they took a knee to raise awareness about racism before the start of each match, by reaffirming the fans ‘right to protest’ and ‘make their feelings known’ about the action.
By framing oppressive behaviour in this light, Boris Johnson essentially dismissed the idea that racism is a problem in the UK, a view that was clearly supported in a controversial government report release only a few months ago.
Some argue that the act of taking a knee against racism was divisive rather than productive. Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely the only people who would feel excluded by this action would be those who refuse to stand in solidarity with people of colour?
Home Secretary Priti Patel has had her own series of questionable policies and positions on matters of immigration, protest, and refugee rights which are real contrast to the PR statement she’s released today.
In fact, Patel called anti-racist protests such as taking the knee ‘gesture politics’, agreeing with the PM that fans have a right to ‘boo’ players who do so.
It should not be surprising that the development and maintenance of a hostile immigration policy environment feeds into (and perhaps legitimises) a culture of white supremacy, racism and xenophobia that is so evident in England on a day like today.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: ‘Let me be clear. The prime minister and the home secretary gave license to the racists who booed the England players and are now racially abusing England players.’
She tweeted that pair were ‘like arsonists complaining about a fire they poured petrol on. Total hypocrites.’
The phrase ‘penalties not politics’ has been used by many online to suggest that football should not overlap with political activism or other social issues. Clearly, though, this is not an option.
Everything is political, especially football. For years, spectators have thrown objects, ran onto the pitch to attack players, and screamed abuse at them from the stands – causing many athletes to refuse to play.
Social media has elevated this soundboard, where ‘fans’ no longer have to attend games to spread hate and negativity that previously may not have made it beyond the local pub or living room.
Black footballers are now subjected to constant racial abuse on Instagram and Twitter, where users hide behind faceless throwaway accounts to send hate-filled private messages and comments.
Had the national team won on penalties, messages across social media would undoubtedly look very different. The same people leaving violent threats and racial slurs in online spaces would be toasting to the achievements of the players.
It appears though, that football fanaticism has a dark side – one which is currently being highlighted by violence on the streets and the targeting of players on social media simply because of the colour of their skin.
Not to mention, in the lead up to the Euro final, charities stressed how instances of domestic violence increases by almost 40 percent when the England national team loses in a football match.
If love and support for a national team is conditioned on the basis that all football games and trophies are won, the beauty of the game is lost. This type of behaviour could result in players becoming jaded.
Over the last several weeks, watching the growth and success of the England squad offered not only adrenaline-inducing entertainment, but an opportunity to band the nation together after a year and a half of disjointedness caused by the pandemic.
Well-mannered fans around the world have flocked to Instagram to report abuse and drown out the hate, by expressing love and support for the players whose hard work brought England to the final leg of the European Championship.
Official investigations into threats to safety and racial abuse of players over the last 24 hours is already underway. However, it is time for better moral leadership and stronger social media policing on online abuse.
The well-being of players and integrity of the sport depends on it.