‘Bandwagon’ Boris and Priti Patel in showdown with footballers over racist abuse
Ministers face football racism row after failing to back England players taking the knee
Boris Johnson and Priti Patel have been accused of hypocrisy in their condemnation of racist abuse targeted at the England footballing squad’s penalty takers.
The prime minister and home secretary spoke out against social media attacks on Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho, who all missed penalties in the nail-biting Euro 2020 final at Wembley on Sunday night.
Yet both Johnson and Patel have “repeatedly stopped short” of criticising fans who booed England players for “taking the knee”, the now well-known gesture against racism and discrimination, reports The Guardian. Patel even dismissed it as “gesture politics” and said booing England players was a “choice” for fans to make.
‘We’ve run out of room on the bandwagon’
Former England right-back and football pundit Gary Neville told Sky News he “wasn’t surprised” at the abuse England players have faced given the previous statements made by Johnson.
“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,” Neville told the broadcaster.
“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 the three players missed.”
Neville also slammed previous comments made by Johnson about Muslim women, particularly a 2018 column in The Telegraph in which he compared veiled women to “letterboxes”.
“Gareth Southgate and Boris Johnson are poles apart. You can be a leader and gentleman. You can be ruthless but have empathy and compassion,” said Neville.
The Daily Mirror’s sports writer Darren Lewis accused the PM of having a “Donald Trump ‘good people on both sides’ moment” after failing to denounce fans who had booed ahead of matches in the early weeks of the tournament.
“Sadly for Priti Patel and Boris Johnson we’ve run out of room on the bandwagon,” he wrote ahead of last week’s semi-final match against Denmark.
England player Tyrone Mings also had strong words of criticism for Patel on the social media platform, tweeting: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
Conservative peer Baroness Sayeeda Warsi also called on the home secretary to “think about our role in feeding this culture in our country”.
“If we ‘whistle’ & the ‘dog’ reacts, we can’t be shocked if it barks & bites,” Warsi wrote in a fiery public tweet. “It’s time to stop the culture wars that are feeding division. Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations.”
But a No. 10 spokesperson defended the prime minister against accusations of racism, telling journalists Johnson had made it “extremely clear” that “racism in any form has no place in our society” and that “he wanted to see the whole nation getting behind the team and not booing”.
Johnson also tweeted: “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.”
‘I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from’
In an emotional message to fans, the 23-year-old England forward Marcus Rashford tweeted that he felt he had “let everyone down” in missing a crucial penalty against Italy. But while he could take the criticism of his performance “all day long”, he said “I will never apologise for who I am and where I came from.”
A mural dedicated to the young player in Withington, Manchester, was defaced and “daubed” with swear words after the England loss, reports the BBC. The mural, dedicated to Rashford after he was awarded an MBE for services to vulnerable children during the pandemic, has since been covered by “hearts, flags and notes expressing their support and admiration for Rashford”, says the broadcaster.
‘It’s just not what we stand for’
Racist incidents in the aftermath of the match show how social media companies have “struggled to crack down on racism and abuse” on their platforms, “despite high-profile players, including the England team, and lawmakers repeatedly calling for action”, reports the Financial Times.
In April, the Premier League and other clubs and sporting bodies boycotted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for four days in order to draw attention to the abuse, with the worst abuse “typically reserved for black footballers and ethnic minorities”, reports the paper.
In April, the Premier League and other clubs and sporting bodies boycotted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in order to draw attention to the abuse, with the worst abuse “typically reserved for black footballers and ethnic minorities”, reports the paper.
England manager Gareth Southgate has described the abuse directed at his young players as “unforgivable”.
“It's just not what we stand for,” he said during a news conference on Monday.
“We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together, in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody, and so that togetherness has to continue.
“We have shown the power our country has when it does come together and has that energy and positivity together.”