It’s impossible to forget that Boris Johnson had defended spectators who jeered at Premier League players as they took the knee to raise awareness about racism.
In his statements, he also reaffirmed the fans’ ‘right to protest’ and freedom to ‘make their feelings known’ about the symbolic action.
Framing fan behaviour in this light, Boris essentially dismissed the fact that racism is well and truly alive in his country – a stance only further illuminated by a recent, controversial government report which declared ‘there is no systemic racism in the UK.’
Home Secretary Priti Patel has had her own series of questionable policies and positions on matters of immigration, protest, and refugee rights, which are serious contrast to the PR statement she’s released today.
In fact, Patel had previously labelled anti-racist protests such as taking the knee ‘gesture politics,’ reiterating that fans have a right to ‘boo’ players who do so.
It’s highly possible that these political ideologies feed into and perhaps legitimise a culture of white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia that has become so evident on a day like today.
Speaking on the outburst of abuse online, 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 the pair were ‘like arsonists complaining about a fire they poured petrol on. Total hypocrites.’
Over the last few years, the phrase ‘penalties not politics’ has been used to suggest that football should not overlap with political activism or social issues.
But everything is political. Even football.
For years, spectators have thrown objects, ran onto the pitch to attack players, and screamed slurs from the stands. In some instances, abusive fan behaviour has led to athletes refusing to complete a match.
Unfortunately, social media has only elevated this soundboard. People no longer need to attend games to spread hate and negativity that previously wouldn’t have made it beyond the local pub or living room.
Instead, Black footballers can be subjected to constant racial abuse on Instagram and Twitter, where users hide behind faceless throwaway accounts to submit hate-filled messages and comments.
If England’s national team won on penalties, messages across social media would undoubtedly look very different. The same people leaving violent threats and racial slurs would be toasting to the great achievements of the players.
If love and support for a national team (and its players) 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.
Watching the growth and success of the England squad over the last several weeks 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 the nation to the final leg of the European Championship.
Already, official investigations into threats to safety and comments containing racial abuse are underway.
Still, it is time for better moral leadership and stronger social media policing towards online abuse of any kind. The well-being of England’s players – and the integrity football – depends on it.