Our players need our full support in facing down racism on the football pitch
The racist abuse we witnessed on Monday night was horrific – the Government must now push for the harshest sanctions for offenders, writes Rosena Allin-Khan MP
I was pleased this week to be granted an Urgent Question on the racist discrimination that our England team faced during the Euro 2020 qualifiers. This came just a couple of months after I held a Racism in Sport debate in the Commons.
On Monday night, we witnessed horrific racist abuse aimed at England players in their match against Bulgaria, which caused the match to be halted on two occasions. Photos and clips followed of fans performing Nazi salutes and the racist chanting continued. It is utterly deplorable.
During the match, I had a conversation with the FA’s Chief Executive where I reiterated our support for the England players. The entire country will be proud of how the England team performed under such undue pressure and Gareth Southgate has shown true leadership in defence of his players.
This abuse must be stamped out – no one should have to arrive at work to be subjected to any form of discrimination. Why are our players still being subjected to this? While the methods of abuse may have changed over recent decades, racism is still very much present in sport and it rears its ugly head at football matches across the world.
In future, if players decide to walk off the pitch in protest, they must have the full support of Parliament, our press and football bodies. No player should ever have to act in isolation if they suffer racist abuse – for our game to move forward, players must know that their teams will support them every step of the way.
We, ourselves however, are not exempt from this problem. Bulgaria may have taken some action in the days following the match, including the arrest of some fans, but this issue is far broader than just one national squad. I called on UEFA to come down hard, especially as this was not Bulgaria’s first offence. If they cannot control their crowd, then they should lose the ability to allow fans in and they should forfeit games. This is the only way to show that this is being taken seriously.
It would be irresponsible for us to condemn the behaviour of fans around the world, without addressing the fact that many players have suffered racist abuse online, from the stands and in their day-to-day lives at the hands of a small section of our own fans.
I asked the Government to outline the steps that they are taking to address the scourge of racism in football. Boris Johnson’s words on this matter following the match ring hollow given that he refuses to apologise for his own racist comments – in fact, during his leadership campaign he even defended his previous comments. The Government must get their own house in order, otherwise, how can anyone believe that the prime minister is calling out racism with any sincerity.
We owe it to our younger generations to show that they have allies in the media, in Parliament, in the FA and our leagues. It takes real courage for players such as Tammy Abraham and Raheem Sterling to be so outspoken on this topic. They cannot do this alone – they need the support of everyone in this building.
On the pitch, the players need to know that they have allies up and down the country. We must all publicly back our players when they take the brave position to walk off the pitch together in solidarity.
UEFA has a duty to act here, the world is watching. A fine is not enough, so I asked our Government to ensure that we are backing up the FA to seek the harshest possible punishment. Stadium bans are a must, forfeiting matches and expulsion from tournaments must not be ruled out.
Rosena Allin-Khan is Labour MP for Tooting and shadow sports minister