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Football condemns racist abuse in wake of England’s penalty shootout loss

Bukayo Saka File Photo
(Image credit: Mike Egerton)

Arsenal have condemned the racist social media abuse directed at their player Bukayo Saka and some of his England team-mates in the wake of the Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy.

Saka, along with Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, missed penalties in the shoot-out defeat on Sunday night and their social media feeds were quickly filled with racially abusive posts.

The abuse has been condemned by the Football Association, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves”.

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Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would back the police to hold those responsible accountable, while Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden demanded that social media companies “up their game” and address it.

Arsenal said they could not have been prouder of how Saka had represented the club and his country throughout the tournament, but said that pride had turned to sorrow when their player became the target of abuse.

“Bukayo has been with us since he was seven and the whole club couldn’t have been prouder to see him represent England throughout the tournament,” the north London club said.

“Last night we witnessed the leadership and character we’ve always known and loved in Bukayo. 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.”

England manager Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka after the penalty shoot-out

England manager Gareth Southgate consoles Bukayo Saka after the penalty shoot-out (Mike Egerton/PA)

The FA condemned those who had abused the England players, adding in its own statement: “We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team. We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.

“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. 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.”

Dowden warned social media platforms faced severe financial penalties under the new Online Safety Bill if they did not do more to tackle the issue.

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“I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players,” he wrote on Twitter.

“Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10 per cent of global revenue.”

The Prime Minister added: “This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”

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

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“No one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram,” a Facebook company spokesperson said.

“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.”

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Former England defender Gary Neville was unsurprised by the racist abuse and criticised the leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

“I’m just reading your breaking news and it says the ‘PM condemns racist abuse of England players’,” Neville told Sky News.

“Gareth Southgate and the players a few weeks ago, about five days on the trot, told us they were taking the knee to promote equality and it was against racism.

“The Prime Minister said it was OK for the population of this country to boo those players who were trying to promote equality and defend against racism. It starts at the very top.

“I wasn’t surprised in the slightest that I woke up to those headlines; I expected it the minute that the three players that missed missed.”