During Saturday’s finals, Euro 2020 concluded with Italy emerging as the champions. A penalty shootout determined the continent’s kings and gave the winning country its second Euro title. However, England’s representatives took the center stage not only because of their loss but also for the racist online abuse that three of their players faced.
After missing spot-kicks in the penalty shootout that gave Italy the crown, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka received an onslaught of racist tirades on social media. Alarming and indicative of the deeply-rooted problem of racism, the harassment the Black players suffered from triggered an uproar and prompted a police investigation and condemnation from a long list of personalities. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denounced the abuse by tweeting, “This England team deserves to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”
Prince William, the president of England’s Football Association, also turned to Twitter to relay his dismay over the torrent of harmful speech thrown at Rashford, Sancho, and Saka. “I am sickened by the racist abuse aimed at England players after last night’s match,” he said in a statement released on July 12. “It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behavior. It must stop now, and all those involved should be held accountable.”
Likewise, the Football Association heavily slammed the barrage of hate comments. “We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behavior is not welcome in following the team,” it emphasized. “We will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishment possible for anyone responsible.”
The racial abuse that followed the finals is not the first of its kind. Over the years, social media platforms have been considered home to millions of users, including those who spew slurs. Unfortunately, while Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites could implement measures that will stop the spread of abusive content, they can only do so much in the face of the pervasiveness of this type of content and as racism continues to impact Black people, Asian communities, and other minorities.
Reportedly, Twitter removed more than 1,000 tweets as well as permanently suspended accounts of users who harassed the players online. Instagram removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers, as well. It asserted that “no one should have to experience racist abuse anywhere, and we don’t want it on Instagram. We will continue to take action against those that break our rules.”
But the effect of the technological moves taken by the social media giants pales in contrast to the implications of systemic racism and the prevalence of hateful speech and actions not only in sports.
Racism reared its ugly head, and it is bound to do so again as long as the societal issue of discrimination and racial violence remains. Many significant strides are therefore needed in the future.