Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka racially abused after England Euro 2020 final loss

The UK prime minister Boris Johnson, England manager Gareth Southgate and the English Football Association (FA) have condemned the racist abuse aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka following the penalty shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.

All three players missed their penalties in a 3-2 shootout loss and were immediately the subject of abuse on social media, with Twitter deleting over 1,000 tweets in the aftermath of the match at Wembley Stadium. A mural to Rashford, who has campaigned over child food poverty in recent months, was defaced in a suburb of his home town of Manchester. London’s Metropolitan Police say they will investigate the “offensive and racist” posts online aimed at players.

Southgate noted that not all of the abuse that was directed at England players had come from their home country but described it as “not what we stand for”.

“My first thoughts this morning are immediately with the boys that have done so well for us. The players have had such a great togetherness and spirit which has brought so many parts of our country together. They should be and are incredibly proud of what they’ve done,” Southgate said in his press conference the day after the defeat to Italy. “For some of them to be abused is unforgivable. I know a lot of that has come from abroad, people who track those things have been able to explain that, but not all of it. It’s just not what we stand for. 

“We have been a beacon of light to bring people together and the national team stands for everybody. That togetherness has to continue. We felt the energy and positivity from the fans and I’m incredibly proud of that.”

He added that those who had missed penalties would receive support from the England hierarchy: “We’ve got to make sure we’re there, aligned with their clubs, and making sure we look after those boys. That’s been top of my thinking all night.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson described the abuse directed at England players as “appalling”.

“This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” he said in a tweet. “Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.” The build up to the tournament in England had been dominated by talk over English players taking a knee as a symbol against racism with one minister in Johnson’s cabinet, Home Secretary Priti Patel, saying that fans were entitled to boo the act. 

The day before the tournament Johnson did not condemn those who booed the knee, instead saying that he wanted to see supporters “getting behind the team to cheer them on”.

In a statement released early on Monday morning The FA called for action from the UK government and social media companies to address the abuse of black players, which has become an all too familiar sight in soccer. Rashford had previously highlighted racist abuse he suffered after Manchester United’s Europa League final defeat.

“We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real life consequences,” said the FA. “Social media companies need to step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms, gather evidence that can lead to prosecution and support making their platforms free from this type of abhorrent abuse.”

It was a stance echoed by Kick It Out, English football’s equality and inclusion organization, who urged the government to “keep their promise” to regulate social media through the Online Safety Bill, which will impose a “duty of care” on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should it become law.

Almost immediately after the final whistle at Wembley Stadium reports of abuse on the social media accounts of Rashford, Sancho and Saka began to emerge, including the use of offensive emojis and racist words. At the time of writing there remained offensive posts in the replies to at least one of the three players.

“No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “We quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules.

“In addition to our work to remove this content, we encourage all players to turn on Hidden Words, a tool which means no one has to see abuse in their comments or DMs. No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.”

A Twitter spokesperson said: “The abhorrent racist abuse directed at England players has no place on Twitter.

“In the past 24 hours, through a combination of machine learning based automation and human review, we have swiftly removed over 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules, the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology.”

England’s international players will now take several weeks break before returning to their club sides ahead of the new Premier League season, which begins on August 13 with Arsenal taking on Brentford. Saka had been the shining light for Arsenal in the 2020-21 season and his performances for club and country have won the 19 year old numerous admirers across the sport. The Gunners offered their support to their No.7, a player who is universally popular at the club, telling him to “hold his head high” and reminding them of the pride he has engendered at the Emirates Stadium.

“Last night we witnessed the leadership and character we’ve always known and loved in Bukayo,” said an Arsenal statement.

“However, this feeling of pride quickly turned to sorrow at the racist comments our young player was subjected to on his social media platforms after the final whistle.

“Once again, we are sad to have to say we condemn the racism of a number of black players. This cannot continue and the social media platforms and authorities must act to ensure this disgusting abuse to which our players are subjected on a daily basis stops now.

“We have processes in place internally at Arsenal to ensure our players are supported both emotionally and practically on this issue but sadly there is only so much we can do.

“Our message to Bukayo is: hold your head high, we are so very proud of you and we cannot wait to welcome you back home to Arsenal soon.”

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