Following last night’s defeat to Italy in the final of Euro 2020 there has been a dramatic rise in the amount of racist abuse directed at Black squad members. HOPE not hate research into the scale of the problem underlines exactly why the players taken the knee.
For some, this tournament showed how far the game has come, with the England team taking the knee before matches, players openly supporting LGBT+ rights, and manager Gareth Southgate vocally championing the importance of inclusivity.
However, last night once again showed how much still needs to be done when it comes to tackling prejudice and discrimination within football and wider society.
Throughout the tournament HOPE not hate has been monitoring abuse directed at squad members on social media. Data provided by us and analysed by The Guardian found thousands of abusive tweets directed at players including racism and homophobia.
However, initial analysis of social media in the wake of last night’s defeat shows a dramatic surge of racist abuse directed at players.
Through our collaboration with The Guardian we uncovered abusive tweets against all England team players, alongside manager Southgate, but the form of abuse differed from player to player. Despite scoring three goals during the tournament, Raheem Sterling was the second most targeted player after team captain Harry Kane, and much of the abuse against him was of a racist nature. Sterling received half of all racist abuse that was identified during the first three matches.
Despite the English team having a remarkably successful tournament, occasional missteps by players led to small spikes in abusive posts online. Yesterday’s loss amplified this pattern, and the players who missed their penalties received more abuse than we had recorded during any other game during the tournament. Much of this was racist, and the amount of vile racist slurs spiked enormously during the last minutes of the game. The n-word, monkey and banana emojis had only been recorded a handful of times in the previous games, but at the end of the game last night, it exploded.
The issue is not specific to Twitter. A brief look at Black players’ Instagram accounts reveals a large amount of racist abuse there as well. While there are many positive comments as well and racist comments are often challenged, this is unacceptable.
Sadly, early reports suggest that this shocking spike in racist abuse on social media against footballers is part of a wider wave of racism, with numerous reports of racist attacks against Italians.
All of this is an important reminder of exactly why the England team felt it necessary to take the knee before each match. Those footballers know how big a problem racism is and the non-white members of the squad are sadly used to receiving streams of racial abuse online.
At the start of the tournament Home Secretary Priti Patel refused to condemn fans who booed the players for taking the knee, saying “I just don’t support people participating in that type of gesture, gesture politics, to a certain extent, as well.” In light of this horrific spike in racism Patel’s comments look all the more unacceptable.
This is also a moment to once again hold major tech companies to account for their failings when it comes to dealing with online abuse. Throughout the tournament HOPE not hate have found numerous examples of the most extreme racism being directed at footballers and no action being taken to remove the content and the users that posted it. While action has been faster today, since this became a major news story, the failings of companies such as Twitter and Instagram have been laid bare once again.
Thankfully, despite his own track record of racism, the Prime Minister has been quick to condemn the abuse faced by footballers today, however the time for action is long overdue. The government has been dragging its feet with the Online Harms Bill which is designed to deal with exactly this sort of online abuse. Hopefully this will jolt the government into action.
Looking back on this tournament there is plenty to be proud of, not just on the pitch but also off it. Southgate and the team have been a model for a progressive inclusive Englishness that values diversity and difference. However, in light of reports of abuse hurled at visiting fans and racism and homophobia directed at players, it is clear there is a long way to go before the beautiful game is as beautiful as it could be.
Joe Mulhall & Patrik Hermansson
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