England manager blasts ‘unforgivable’ racist abuse of footballers

England manager Gareth Southgate condemned racist abuse aimed at members of his team following their Euro 2020 final defeat against Italy as “unforgivable”, adding that his players should be proud of their achievements during the tournament.

Southgate was speaking on Monday, the morning after England lost to Italy on penalties at Wembley, shattering the country’s hopes of lifting its first major men’s football trophy in 55 years.

Racists singled out Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka on social media for missing their penalty kicks in the tense shootout after a 1-1 draw during the 90-minute match and 30 minutes of extra time.

Southgate said: “For some of them to be abused is unforgivable really. I know a lot of that has come from abroad, people who track those things have explained that, but not all of it. It’s just not what we stand for. 

“The players have had an incredible togetherness and spirit, which I think has brought so many parts of our country together. They should be, and I think are, incredibly proud of what they’ve done.”

Prime minister Boris Johnson and Prince William joined Southgate in condemning the abuse.

“This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” said Johnson. “Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves.”

Prince William said he was “sickened” by the racism. Rashford’s club, Manchester United, which is acquiring Sancho from Germany’s Borussia Dortmund this summer, and Arsenal, where Saka plays, also issued anti-racism statements.

The incidents 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.

Footballers are often lambasted on social media after losing a match but the worst abuse is typically reserved for black footballers and ethnic minorities. English football, including the Premier League and its clubs, boycotted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in April to draw attention to the abuse.

England players have continued to take the knee before matches, a symbolic gesture against racism, but a minority of fans have booed.

Although Johnson has urged fans not to boo players for taking the knee, he initially distanced himself from the gesture, saying he was “more focused on action rather than gestures”.

“This is why we take the knee,” said Labour MP David Lammy, who gave several examples of racist abuse on Twitter.

The racism will also add to security concerns, questions about the policing of the event and how fans conducted themselves throughout the day.

The Football Association, the domestic governing body, said it would support the players and pursue the “toughest punishments” for those responsible.

“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team,” it added.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the people responsible for the abuse “must be held accountable” and that “social media companies need to act immediately to remove and prevent this hate”.

The Metropolitan Police said it was aware of “offensive and racist comments” on social media after the final and added that it would investigate.

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