Continued Abuse Of England Footballers Is Exactly Why Players Take The Knee
As England lost the Euro 2020 final in heartbreaking fashion, amid a widespread outpouring of love and support, the response from some so-called fans towards Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka was disappointingly predictable.
Just minutes after the last penalty was taken, Instagram posts of the three players who missed decisive kicks for England were flooded with monkey emojis, racial slurs and other vile abuse.
According to Channel 4 News, more than 2,000 abusive tweets were sent to Rashford, Sancho, Saka and Raheem Sterling following the final, 167 of which were considered ‘high risk’.
This torrent of racism is exactly why England’s players have taken the knee throughout the tournament and over the past year. Taking the knee is a protest against systemic racism that goes way beyond online abuse, but the events of the past few days should prove for once and for all to those who still oppose the gesture why it is so important that players continue their campaign. Yet many still refuse to draw the link.
This includes leading politicians such as Home Secretary Priti Patel and Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who have condemned the abuse, but just weeks earlier gave the green light for supporters to boo the players for their anti-racism protest – a hypocrisy that was highlighted by England defender Tyrone Mings, who called out Patel in a tweet accusing her of ‘stoking the fire’.
It’s hard not to feel helpless seeing the horrific levels of racist abuse faced by these young players. But there are signs that people have had enough. With social media platforms failing to step in to block abuse, hundreds of fans have tried to drown it out by posting positive comments on players’ accounts, replacing monkey emojis with hearts and crowns.
Meanwhile in Manchester, a defaced mural of Marcus Rashford has been covered in post-it notes with messages of support, with the striker saying in a message last night that the sight had him ‘on the verge of tears’.
Other England players have also responded. In a tweet, Harry Kane told those sending the abuse, ‘If you abuse anyone on social media you’re not an @England fan and we don’t want you,’ while 18-year-old Jude Bellingham called for action to be taken, tweeting, ‘Educate and control the platforms!’
Football players have been raising the alarm about this for years. Just three months ago, they led a football-wide boycott of social media to call for action against online abuse, while several of the England squad – including Rashford – have also been participating in Hope United, a campaign providing tools for dealing with online hate.
Professional athletes have been some of the most vocal campaigners against racism and social media abuse. But let’s not kid ourselves: it shouldn’t be down to them, and until social media companies and the government take online abuse seriously, this kind of thing will continue.
It’s all well and good releasing statements condemning racism, but social media companies are still unwilling to take serious action to stamp out the hate. There are concrete policies that could be enforced. Why not lock the comments on players’ pages when this kind of thing happens? If AI moderators are able to block accounts that post copyrighted videos of football matches, why can’t they block accounts that post monkey emojis?
According to Gareth Southgate, much of this abuse is coming from abroad, and there’s also some suggestion that many of the faceless accounts are generated by bots. But not all of them.
Another interesting idea that has been floated is to require all social media accounts to be linked with an official ID, to make sure authorities can track down people who hide behind anonymous accounts to post hate, and remove bots and other accounts that don’t comply. This idea seems to be gaining traction, with a petition calling for mandatory account verification having gained more than 600,000 signatures in just over 24 hours.
At its best, the Euro 2020 tournament will be remembered for bringing a divided country together after an incredibly tough 16 months. True England fans are disgusted by the racist abuse that has marred the past few days, but if enough people stand up and say enough is enough, maybe, just maybe, this could become the turning point in the fight against online hate.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website: www.stophateuk.org
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