British police opened investigations Monday into the racist abuse of three Black players who missed penalties in England's shootout loss to Italy in the European Championship final.
The Metropolitan Police condemned the “unacceptable” abuse of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, and said they will be investigating the “offensive and racist” social media posts published soon after Italy won Sunday's shootout 3-2 following a 1-1 draw. A mural of Rashford on the wall of a cafe in south Manchester was also defaced with graffiti in the wake of the match.
The racist abuse, which was condemned as “unforgiveable" by England coach Gareth Southgate, has led to calls for social media companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, to do more in hunting down the perpetrators of the abuse.
All three players targeted are part of a young England squad that has been widely praised for its diversity and social conscience. Rashford, for one, has been at the forefront of a campaign against child poverty, which convinced the British government to restore free lunches for thousands of poor children amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“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,” Southgate said Monday.
The abuse was widely condemned, with Prince William, the president of the English Football Association, saying he was “sickened” by the racism aimed at the England players.
“It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour,” he wrote on Twitter. “It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable.”
Although British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves,” he has faced criticism for emboldening those booing the England team for taking a knee before their matches to protest against racial injustice.
Last month, Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister is “more focused on action rather than gestures.” That comment led to widespread criticism that Johnson was effectively encouraging those booing to carry on. Three days later, his spokesman changed tack, saying the prime minister “respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices” and that he wanted to cheer the team on and “not boo.”
Keir Starmer, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused Johnson of a failure of leadership for not calling out the booing of the England team.
“The prime minister failed to call that out and the actions and inactions of leaders have consequences, so I’m afraid the prime minister’s words today ring hollow,” he said.
Gary Neville, a former Manchester United player and now a TV commentator, said he wasn’t surprised that the three players who missed their penalties were targeted for racist abuse and also called out Johnson.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.