The Euro 2020 final happened last night and shortly after—if not right when it became clear England had lost—the team’s black players were subjected to horrible racist abuse once again. Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka missed penalties in the 3 to 2 shootout loss to Italy and became the targets of disgusting attacks online.
As Saka, 19, stepped up to take the penalty, the pressure to perform could be felt through my television—the tension was palpable. It wasn’t just the pressure to perform as a player but as a black player. It’s the awareness that as a black person (or other person of colour) you are held at a higher, more impossible standard than your white counterparts. Your acceptance comes with conditions. You could sadly tell that Saka felt that. You must be perfect, you must be excellent, to be English. If you dare to ‘fail’ your very life is at risk—and your acceptance revoked.
Twitter user Michkeenah wrote, “it’s actually so mad to me that England loses a game and the first thing Black people and women have to think about is their safety. This country is a nightmare.” Another user, planetbrowngirl, wrote, “Please pay attention to the fact that the racial abuse towards Saka, Rashford and Sancho is coming from their team’s very own fans. Same fans who would’ve called them national heroes had they scored. Think about that and how the treatment of Black people is based on their performance.”
Gareth Southgate, England’s manager, was seen consoling Saka after the loss and stated that the racist abuse of players is “unforgivable.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted his condemnation of the abuse, “This England team deserved to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.” As they say, the fish rots from the head—so I’m not sure I believe you, Prime Minister. Many would argue—myself included—that Johnson and the Tory party have spent the last decade egging on this type of behaviour and rhetoric. In fact, they’re known to lead the pack.
I’ll just list a few examples, shall I? The UK government denied that systemic racism is real, has created voter suppression laws that would affect minority communities, ruled that foreign rough-sleepers would be deported, voted against protecting the NHS, created a point-based immigration system, backed a bill which would police peaceful protest, made defacing statues a punishable offence of 10 years, put forward a bill that aims to send asylum seekers to processing centres in Africa and Priti Patel even argued that England fans have the ‘right’ to boo players who take the knee. Do I even need to continue?
Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke was exposed earlier this morning for a text she sent to a Tory MP group chat following the game. Elphicke appallingly wrote, “they lost – would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics.” Let’s not forget that it was Rashford (and not our Prime Minister) who tried to combat child food hunger and fed thousands of children across the country while being a brilliant footballer. These black players carried us to the finals. Let’s not forget it.
You know what’s depressing? That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The violence that black people across this country face is soul destroying.
England’s Football Association (FA) released a statement in response to the racist abuse online stating, “The FA strongly condemns all forms of discrimination and is appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.”
“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,” it continued. While there have been many statements being made about the racist abuse online and on the streets, little actual action has been taken by any authoritative bodies. In fact, it has been individuals online that have been taking it into their own hands.
A swathe of people online have been independently investigating the people leaving racist abuse and tracking down their LinkedIn profiles in order to report their atrocious behaviour to their employers or place of employment. Writer and antiracism activist Maxine Williams gives us advice on how we can do the same. When you see a racist comment, click the profile and report it immediately. If you are able to locate the user’s real name, then try searching it on LinkedIn to find the necessary information needed to report their racist behaviour to their employer or to the police. Let’s rally around these players as much as we can.
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This isn’t a one of a kind, isolated event. Racism in this country and in football is ever present and infuriating. Where are the police when these football crowds form? Whether it’s a BLM protest, a Pride march or a vigil for Sarah Everard, the police come out in droves and yet when England fans are trashing Leicester Square there’s not an officer in sight. Why is it that the most aggressive displays of violence by England fans go unchecked? Why is it that people are still unable to visit loved ones in hospital or have more numbers at funerals yet over 60,000 can congregate to watch the footie? This country has a lot of self-reflection to do.
As chants of ‘it’s coming home’ echo throughout stadiums, crowded pubs and car radios, countless silent victims of domestic abuse will be coming home to something far more sinister. I’m not writing this piece to villainise the sport as a whole. I love football: it’s rich working-class history; it’s the power to bring communities together; its ability to bring nations together—I mean, it was the one thing that briefly stopped brutal trench warfare on 1914’s Christmas Day. But it’s also important to remember that, back in 2014, when England lost a game, incidents of domestic violence increased by 38 per cent. Even more shockingly, when they won, the number still increased by 26 per cent.
This was data taken from a study by Lancaster University which measured instances of domestic violence when England participated in the 2014 World Cup. But don’t think the same thinking process can’t be applied to the Euro 2020 too. Already, it’s estimated that 6.2 per cent of adults in England and Wales aged 16 to 59 have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending in March 2018—women are almost twice as likely to have reported the experience at 7.9 per cent than men at 4.2 per cent. This number is likely to increase during the current European football tournament, and future international competitions, unless something changes.
That being said, is the link between football and domestic abuse strong? Or are there other confounding variables that may influence the statistics? A more recent study conducted by the University of Warwick examined the issue in more detail and with a larger sample size to pin down what might be driving the association between national football tournaments and domestic abuse.
In a blog post for the London School of Economics, Anna Trendl, who is a scientist on the team at the University of Warwick, wrote: “While the link between football fandom and domestic abuse is complex, experts have long pointed to alcohol as an important factor in this relationship. Sport spectatorship and alcohol consumption are inextricably linked, and this is especially true in the context of English football fandom.”
And further data hints towards this being true. On the day of England’s quarter-final victory against Sweden in the 2018 World Cup, hospitals up and down the country reported a record number of alcohol poisoning cases. Several other studies have also highlighted the link between alcohol intoxication and violent behaviour. A report published by the Office of National Statistics in 2018 found that victims of violent crime in England and Wales believed that their perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol in 39 per cent of cases. This leads Trendl to argue that, although alcohol may not be the direct cause of violent behaviour, it acts as an aggravating factor by lowering inhibitions.
In the study, Trendl and her team analysed ten year’s worth of crime data from the West Midlands Police. They focused on England’s national football matches in this period, finding a 47 per cent increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse cases on days when the England teams won in a tournament and an 18 per cent increase on the days after an England match.
From the data, they argued that the link between England football victories and the increase in alcohol-related domestic abuse is likely to be causal. First off, on the days where England won matches, they saw a rise in only alcohol-related cases and not the control group. Likewise, they reported a clear pattern of increase in abuse—which started three hours before a match and peaked during the following hours before gradually declining. This highlights that there is a consistent link between football games and alcohol-related behaviour, a pattern that is replicated across different regions of the country.
Trendl writes: “The exact mechanism by which national football victories lead to an increase in the number of domestic abuse cases is evidently complex, and much of this remains unexplored. What this evidence shows us is that alcohol plays a key role in this relationship.”
So, while football is waking up to political issues such as taking the knee for the Black Lives Matter movement, the issue of domestic abuse, fuelled by alcohol but intertwined with the English football culture should also be brought into public discourse. By all means, enjoy the beautiful game—I’m rooting for England all the way—but this urgently important issue of domestic abuse needs to be addressed.