On Sunday 11th of July, the Euro 2020 final took place in Wembley Stadium, London. The football match was played between Italy and England. In the first 45 minutes, the Three Lions led the match, thanks to Shaw’s second minute goal, but at minute 67 Italy equalized through Bonucci. Extra-time passed without any score. At the end, Italy beat England 3-2 in shootout.
The Italian team and its fans celebrated their first victory at UEFA Euro since 1968. In the meantime, some supporters of England took their anger out on three football players, posting on Twitter racist statements aimed at them. The victims of racial abuse, who missed penalties in the shootout, are Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. Rashford is a 23 years old football player who is a kay squad at Manchester United; Sancho is 21 and plays for the German team Borussia Dortmund; Saka is only 19 and plays as a winger, left-back or central midfielder for Premier League club Arsenal. What do these players have in common? They are very young, and they are black.
England's Football Association released a statement on Monday morning condemning the online racist abuse against the three players. “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”, claims the FA. Words of support came also from England’s captain Harry Kane. "You're not an England fan and we don't want you" he said, referring to those who posted racist statements against Rashford, Sancho and Saka.
On Twitter, more than 1,000 tweets were removed, and several accounts that posted racist comments against the three football players have been permanently suspended. Four people have already been arrested, and the British Police is still investigating in order to find out who else hides behind such accounts.
The day after the defeat, UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed his solidarity to Rashford, Sancho and Saka, twitting that “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”. However, after his tweet, Johnson have been accused of hypocrisy: several social media users reminded him that he did not reproach those who booed the English team for taking the knee, and that Brexit itself was approved as a measure to contain migration.
A mass support for the three players victims of racial abuse was shown not only on social media. For instance, primary school pupils wrote thousands letters for them, defining them as ‘heroes’ and ‘super brave’. Moreover, in Manchester’s suburb of Withington, where Rashford grew up, hundreds people gathered around a mural representing the player, and they left messages of solidarity and support. He thanked his fans and declared proudly “I will never apologise for who I am and were I came from”.
According to some, the racist hatred against Rashford, Sancho and Saka was not a surprise, but instead a “depressing reminder of football and society’s deeper ills”, as Aidan Gibson writes on SB Nation. Therefore, racism in football exists because it is a social problem, and it is not only a problem of England. Indeed, some week earlier, before the match against Wales, only 5 Italian football players took their knee; and before the match against Belgium, the Italian team was still discussing if taking the knee or not – there was nothing much to discuss: it was about making a symbolic gesture against racism or not. The embarrassing decision that the Italian team made at the end was to take the knee, but only if the Belgic players would have done it.
It is only a symbolic gesture, someone would probably say, but often symbolic gesture wrote the history – one of the most powerful happened in 1968 during Summer Olympics in Mexico City, when the Australian runner Peter Norman decided to support John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellion gesture against racism. His absence from the podium step was aimed at focusing the attention of the media on the two black athletes and their raised fists. As Peter Norman taught us, racism is not only a problem of those who are victim of racism. If you are white and privileged, it is also your problem. Therefore, it is fundamental that everyone gives his contribution to this common cause.