England lost a major tournament game on penalties, and the three players who missed, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka, were subject to racial abuse on social media and elsewhere. Rashford had a mural defaced, and having taken the government to task for not providing school meals to children during a pandemic, found himself mocked by Natalie Elphicke, a Member of Parliament for the governing Conservative Party, who essentially said he should have “stuck to sports.” Not to fear, though: the racists have been taken to task by Boris Johnson, who earlier said fans had the right to boo players who took the knee, and Priti Patel, the home secretary who would deport a football if it came from abroad. In the end, it was the same old England—to an extent.
Indeed, it would be shocking if it weren’t all so depressingly familiar. In April, the wider game in England boycotted social media for a weekend—a strategy that was probably somewhat effective, for a weekend, but with a default ending period, lacked the bite to really make Facebook and Twitter take it as a huge threat. Indeed, if the entirety of the footballing world decided to leave social media, the social media companies would be forced to actually do something about the proliferation of racism on their platforms, because that would cost them both money and #content.
Yet even if social media companies did their part, that wouldn’t be the end of it. Rashford’s mural might still be defaced. Arsenal fans—a minority, but still loud enough to be heard on broadcasts—would chant “Yiddos” when chanting about Tottenham Hotspur, and we’re not that far removed from some Arsenal fans making hissing sounds when playing at Spurs. In 2018-19, a Spurs fan threw a banana at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after he scored a penalty, and we only need to look at how the Sun treats Raheem Sterling when he’s not playing well for England to see the dog-whistling that proliferates throughout the game.
However, it would be foolish to pretend that racism is only a problem in England, and only a problem in the English game. Leonardo Bonucci, widely praised after this tournament, said the “blame was 50-50” between Moise Kean and fans—this after Kean was racially abused after scoring at Cagliari in April 2019 and spreading his arms in front of the crowd, an act that we know as “celebrating a goal.” In the spring, we saw Arsenal take a knee in front of the standing players of Slavia Praha, who defended their own player who racially abused Rangers’ Glen Kamara.
Racism is not an English problem, or an Italian problem, or a Czech problem. It is a problem in football, because it is a problem in society, particularly in Europe and the West, countries that colonized and exploited the rest of the world, and in doing so, made everyone who looked different the Other. I don’t necessarily have a solution, beyond dismantling other hierarchies that exist in society that allow racists and racism to flourish, but it would be foolish to sit here, the day after Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford, and Jadon Sancho were abused and pretend that this is a problem that is insular, that affects only certain nations, or certain clubs, because it exists in people who are fans and supporters of every club around the world. Beyond that, I don’t have an answer. I can’t imagine how exhausting it is for the players, and I hope they get the support they need.
Solidarity, Bukayo, Marcus, Raheem, and Jadon, and solidarity with everyone at Wembley and around the world yesterday who feared for their individual safety because of the result of a fucking football match.