Football & Racism

An early goal and a dramatic end kept all football fans on their toes at the 2020 Euro Cup finals. This was the first time England had reached the finals and supporters were ecstatic when defender Luke Shaw scored a goal only two minutes after kick-off. After a whirlwind of ups and downs, strategic plays, and close calls , Italy emerged victorious in the equally suspenseful penalties, 3-2

This win restored  Italy’s former reputation, after the utter disappointment they’d faced four years ago when they didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup. But a large section of the English fans were enraged with the result of the month-long tournament, since this would have been the first major trophy that England could have won since the 1966 World Cup. 

Sport is full of dedication and passion, almost to a religious extent in some parts of the world. Large scale protests or riots are not entirely uncommon. However, what followed the Euro 2020 finals can only be termed as extreme racism, violence and hate. Thousands of angry fans stormed the streets, attacked Italian supporters and  businesses, set off flares  and wrecked public property. There were 49 arrests made at Wembley Stadium before the match had even started. Moreover, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted on social media after they failed to convert their penalties during the final shoot-out. They were subjected to racist comments  on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Marcus Rashford has raised up to £20m worth of funds to provide food to almost 3 million people, called for the government to reverse their decision to not provide free school-meal vouchers for children over the summer holidays and held a social media campaign for the same, and started a book club and donated books to children across the UK. There are thousands of posts highlighting all the community service and charity work that these players have done throughout the years, and it is understandable why people have the need to defend the players. 

But humans, and black people in particular, do not have to earn the right to be free of racism. This isn’t racism in football, but societal racism. Throughout the tournament, teams have been taking the knee before the start of the match to protest against racism and inequality. However, during the final, players were booed by a section of fans as they knelt on the pitch. Critics viewed this stand against racism  as “unnecessary politicization of sports” and “expression of sympathy with far-left politics”. It is a cause for concern that people believe it is fair to criticize athletes for their sporting actions based on their skin color. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William were among those who condemned the racist abuse that England’s football stars received.

“This England team deserves to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.  Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”

Johnson said on Twitter.

Prince William said he was “sickened” by the discriminatory abuse while the Football Association in England said in a statement it was “appalled.”  Premier League clubs joined their counterparts in the FA, EFL, and Women’s Super League in observing social media silence in protest. In England, a boycott of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram was organized from April 30 to May 3 to draw attention to concerns of online prejudice and harassment faced by footballers, even after movements like Black Lives Matter gained momentum only a few months ago.

 Many people have also pointed out social media platforms’ inaction in removing the belittling remarks and comments. Companies claim to have tools and filters in place to prevent users from viewing abusive content, but this does not address the issue of the content being shared in the first place. Moreover, with the reach that these platforms have, it’s getting harder for them to not be held responsible for the dissemination of hate on the internet. Although it was heartwarming to see thousands of people leave positive messages and show gratitude, love and support to these players, it doesn’t nullify all the hostility they had to face. 

Racism isn’t something that can be eradicated overnight; it is about changing the way people think. Humanity has a long way to go, but there is still hope if people don’t let the hate affect their own perspective on their culture and identity. As Rashford very decorously put it in his response to all the comments on Twitter:

“I can take critique of my performance all day long, my penalty was not good, it should have gone in but I will never apologise for who I am or where I’m from. I’m Marcus Rashford, 23 year old, black man from Withington and Whythenshawe, South Manchester. If I have nothing else I have that.”

Rashford on Twitter .

– Sania Mahabaleshwarkar


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