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Police investigate racist abuse of three England soccer players after Euro Cup loss

Man covering up abusive graffiti on mural
A man covers up offensive graffiti Monday on the mural of British soccer player Marcus Rashford in Manchester, England.
(Peter Byrne / Press Assn.)

British police opened investigations Monday into the racist abuse of three Black soccer players who missed penalty kicks in England’s shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final.

Scotland Yard condemned the abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, and said they would investigate the “offensive and racist” social media posts published soon after Italy won Sunday’s overtime shootout 3-2, after the match ended in regular time at 1-1. British fans had hoped for a Euro Cup title to erase their country’s half-century wait for a major championship.

The English Football Assn. said it was “appalled” by the “disgusting behavior,” adding that social media companies should take action to make their platforms free from such “abhorrent” abuse.

“We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible,” the FA said. “We will continue to do everything we can to stamp discrimination out of the game, but we implore [the] government to act quickly and bring in the appropriate legislation so this abuse has real-life consequences.”

All three players targeted were members of a young England squad that has been widely praised for its diversity and social conscience. Rashford in particular has been at the forefront of a campaign against child poverty, which convinced the British government to restore free lunches for thousands of poor children amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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A mural of Rashford on the wall of a cafe in south Manchester was defaced in the wake of Sunday’s match. Greater Manchester Police said they were investigating the “racially aggravated damage,” which occurred at 2:50 a.m. Monday.

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“This is disgraceful behavior and will absolutely not be tolerated,” Chief Supt. Paul Savill said.

Although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he has faced criticism for emboldening those who booed the England team for taking a knee before their matches to protest against racial injustice.

Last month, Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister was “more focused on action rather than gestures.” That comment led to widespread criticism that Johnson was effectively encouraging those booing to carry on. Three days later, his spokesman changed tack, saying that the prime minister “respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices” and that he wanted to to cheer the team on and “not boo.”

England coach Gareth Southgate described the abuse directed at the players as “unforgivable.”

This season, the Italian Serie A has seen a match suspended because of racist chants, a TV commentator dismissed over derogatory comments and a fan banned for life for attacking a player on social media because of his race.

“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody, and so that togetherness has to continue,” Southgate said Monday.

Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player and now a TV commentator, said he wasn’t surprised that the three players who missed their penalties were targeted for racist abuse, and called out Johnson.

“The prime minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who are trying to promote equality and defend against racism,” he said on Sky News. “It starts at the very top, and so for me I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that I woke up this morning to those headlines.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel also condemned the abuse but has faced criticism for encouraging those booing the players by describing their actions as “gesture politics.”

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Prince William, who is the president of the FA, joined the chorus of condemnation, saying he was “sickened” by the racist abuse aimed at the England players.

“It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour,” he wrote on Twitter. “It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan called on social media companies to do more to hold offenders to account.

“There is absolutely no place for racism in football or anywhere else,” he wrote in a Twitter post. “Those responsible for the disgusting online abuse we have seen must be held accountable — and social media companies need to act immediately to remove and prevent this hate.”

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Facebook, which owns Instagram, said Monday that it tries to remove harmful content as quickly as possible and encouraged people to use the tools it offers to block abuse.

“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,” it said in a statement.

Twitter said the “abhorrent racist abuse” has no place on its platform, adding that it removed more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating its rules.

“We will continue to take action,” Twitter said, “when we identify any tweets or accounts that violate our policies.”


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