LONDON – In the hours following England’s defeat in the Euro 2020 Football Championship final and black players were subjected to a flood of racist comments, officials condemned the abuse almost as quickly as the offensive comments had been broadcast.
But athletes and others went on a rampage and accused senior politicians of helping to create the conditions that allowed for the open expression of bigotry.
Interior Minister Priti Patel, in particular, was attacked after she tweeted that she was “disgusted” by the abuse suffered by three black players – Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho – who missed decisive penalties on Sunday.
“You cannot stoke the fire at the start of the tournament by calling our anti-racist message ‘gesture politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the thing we are campaigning against happens,” an English football player tweeted Tyrone Mings.
Last month, Patel said in an interview with GB News that she did not support people participating in what she called “gesture politics”, referring to players kneeling before a game. She also said that the fans booing the players “is a choice for them”.
In a request for comment on Mings’ criticisms, the Home Office referred to Patel’s original tweet, which said that racism “has no place in our country,” and said his comment on the booed fans expressed his belief that people have a right to speak out.
Other former players joined Mings in denouncing the government for hypocrisy, especially Patel.
“You can’t make this stuff up…. How dare you write this post when you and your peers have said that it’s okay for people to boo the knee socket? ” tweeted the former footballer player Anton Ferdinand in response to Patel’s tweet.
Saka, Rashford and Sancho have received a wave of support from players, fans and school children both on social media and in real life. A mural of Rashford that was disfigured in Manchester was quickly covered in paper hearts and letters to the player.
In one Twitter post, Rashford apologized for missing his penalty kick, but said he “will never apologize for who I am and where I come from”.
Last year, the Manchester United player became known for much more than his footballing skills after forcing the government to make an embarrassing turnaround on providing free school meals to children in low-income households.
The pullback against the government is no surprise given Britain’s ethnic makeup and the direction society is taking, according to Sathnam Sanghera, author of “Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain”.
“As a nation, we are becoming more and more diverse, tolerant and progressive,” said Sanghera, who was a spectator of the match on Sunday.
“The fact that players are going up against the government shows you that things are starting to change. There is a long way to go, there is a long way to go.
“If you whistle for dogs”
It is not just the athletes who criticize the government for stoking a culture war in the UK. Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, a member of the opposition Labor Party, said Mings was right to call out politicians.
“If you whistle the dogs, the dogs will start barking” Burnham said on GB News, adding that the government has stirred up cultural wars.
“Over the past decade we’ve had leaders, especially in the United States and here to some extent, who just allowed things to happen when they shouldn’t have been.”
Prince William, who is president of the Football Association, has also been criticized for his condemnation of racist abuse, with some saying he should have supported his sister-in-law Meghan more, after she complained of racism during her tenure as a senior royal.
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“Prince William if you had led by being disgusted, vocally and visibly against the racist abuse towards your sister-in-law #MeghanMarkle, for years your words would have legitimate credibility right now, ”wrote Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, author of“ This Is Why I Resist: Don’t Define My Black Identity.
Notorious UK tabloids are also being targeted for playing a role in fueling the racism gamers have faced. The hashtag #dontbuythesun, one of the UK’s most popular newspapers, was trending on Twitter Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday, the newspaper’s front page read “We are protecting you” and featured photos of the three black players who were abused. But some on the social media platform pointed to the newspaper’s front pages, which at times criticized black soccer players for their tattoos or spending habits.
The fury over racist abuse, along with comments from political leaders, has highlighted the horrific cultural war unfolding in British society and the need to find a new way forward, according to Patrick Vernon, social commentator, historian culture and co-author of “100 Great Black Britons”.
“It raises the big issues of the ongoing systemic racism, what Britain will do about it and what politicians are going to do about it, especially if they denied it in the first place,” a- he declared.
“Football is Britain’s No.1 sport, and the sport brings people together, no matter who you are.”