The three Hijabis and the beautiful game

09 08 21
Shaista Aziz is a journalist, writer and anti-racism campaigner. She’s also part of the FA’s Refugees and Asylum Seekers Football Network. In this article for the Heroes of the Terraces she writes about the Euros, the ugliness of the racism players faced, and the hope of the response from fans.

So that was Euro 2020 and what an emotional, exciting and power house of a festival of football and goals it was – ending in the grand finale where the mighty Azzuri won the Euros at Wembley after 53 long years. Football came home to Rome! 

There was high drama, silky skills, goals – lots and lots of them – and penalty shootouts galore. And, there was of course our young, gifted and representative England squad, playing as a team in synch with each other, on and off the pitch.

England dropped to their knee at the start of every game in anti-racist solidarity. Our captain, Harry Kane, wore a rainbow armband in solidarity with LGBQTI+ people and communities. Our inclusive England team won as many fans over for their solidarity and belief in equalities as they did for their football.

England defended hard and scored goals, including sinking Ukraine with four. That match was surely one of the least stressful matches England fans have ever witnessed. Oh, we also beat Germany too – for the first time in a competitive game at Wembley since 1966. 

By the time Euro 2020 concluded, the ball had ended up in the back of the net 142 times in 51 matches. That’s a phenomenal goal rate and one of the highest in the history of the competition. Euro 2020 produced electrifying football, sending heart rates pulsing and in some ways made up for the long enforced shut down of the beautiful game as the Covid-19 pandemic ripped through Europe and the world, bringing the game we love and the world as we know it to a standstill.

England dropped to their knee at the start of every game in anti-racist solidarity. 

Football badly needed Euro 2020, delayed by a year due to the pandemic, just as much as we the fans needed it.  It followed the trauma of Covid, the loss of loved ones, lockdown isolations and the impact on our mental and physical wellbeing, our lives and communities – much of which will require processing over years to come and can’t be reversed. 

Euro 2020 injected long overdue humanity and decency into football, forcing a temporary reset of the multi-billion pound capitalist global football machine that is obsessed with sponsorship and generating colossal amounts of revenue for the out of touch organisations that run football. The sight of Cristiano Ronaldo sneering at the bottles of product-placed soft drinks strategically put in front of his face at a press conference was deeply satisfying and is most likely one of the main times Cristiano, a marmite figure, united so many of us. When he lifted up the sugar laced bottle of drink to shove it out of the way, pleading on everyone to drink water instead, it was reminiscent of a mosquito being zapped. It was a glorious moment of conscious and consciousness raising disruption to add to the Euro 2020’s list.

Cristiano’s mosquito zapping move led to claims that one of the world’s biggest companies lost billions off its share price. This was later proved to be fake news. 

Euro 2020 also amplified the ugliness of the beautiful game, the racism, the thuggery and violence off the pitch too. 

But for now, back to what happened on the pitch during the competition. Football blog number crunched the stats for Euro 2020 summing up how exciting this competition was. England feature a few times in the roll call of honour too. You blatantly know future pub quizzes and general knowledge football questions will be based on these spellbinding stats and facts for years to come. 

What happened on the pitch made for headline global news as much as what happened off the pitch – with our England team forcing the nation to hold more uncomfortable conversations about racism not just here in the UK but across Europe too. England players taking the knee was described by Home Secretary Priti Patel as “gesture politics”, with so called England fans booing the national team claiming they wanted to keep politics out of football.

Booing your own side because they want to be counted as unapologetic anti-racists is not only deeply horrifying and ugly, it’s also deeply political. Football was dragged into the government’s manufactured culture wars and football came out kicking, screaming and shouting in anti-racist solidarity and won this battle. No-one is under any illusion that winning the (anti-racism) war still remains a goal. 

Euro 2020 also amplified the ugliness of the beautiful game 

When England lost to Italy on penalties in the final and our three young Black players, Rashford, Sancho and Saka, missed their spot kicks, the political climate and discourse in this country further emboldened and empowered the racists into overdrive. The poisonous racist hate was over-flowing and absolutely nobody including the culture warriors and the architects could deny what was happening because, in the words of James Baldwin: “People who treat other people as less than human must not be surprised when the bread they have cast on the waters comes floating back to them, poisoned.”

The morning after the final, my two friends and I, Amna Abdullatif and Huda Jawad, England fans, football fans, and visibly Muslim women wearing hijabs and women of colour, set up a football petition calling on the government and the Football Association (FA) to work together to ban racists from football for life.

Calling ourselves #TheThreeHijabis, riffing off the Three Lions, our anti-racism campaign went viral and within 48 hours of our petition being launched 1 million+ people signed up to create an anti-racism movement. We secured blanket national media coverage and international media coverage too, including in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Less than 72 hours after our campaign launch, Boris Johnson stood up in Parliament during Prime Ministers Questions to say the government would ban online racists from football. We welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to doing this but as the new football season approaches, we demand action and accountability from the government, the FA, tech companies, and wider football to tackle racism in football and society. You can’t do one without the other. 

This summer, along with an army of 1 million+ people, we’ve drowned out the racists and reclaimed football back from the racists and bigots. We’ve reclaimed the narrative. For football to become truly anti-racist and a game that is safe for all minorities and communities everywhere, we need to build the anti-racism movement we’ve collectively and organically started through the beautiful game.

Please join our movement by signing and sharing the petition


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