Euro 2020: Joy, dismay and hope

Shanil Nayee

28 Jul 2021

We’ve been in lockdown – or had some form of Covid-19 restrictions in place – for what seems like an eternity now; OK, it’s been 18 months. And for many of us, this has meant the postponement of weddings, birthday celebrations, holidays and so much more.

And while football wasn’t high up the list of importance, all those delayed matches, postponed tournaments and games played in empty stadiums was tough going for avid fans.

That’s why I appreciated ITV’s coverage of the 1996 Euro tournament to fill the void last year (even if it did remind us of the 30 55 years of hurt!). But suffice it to say, it wasn’t quite the same as the real thing. So there was a genuine buzz this summer when the delayed Euro 2020 tournament kicked off.

It felt like the radical stimulus that gave everyone a reason to support the same cause. It brought together an entire nation and took us on a journey that few people have experienced since 1966.

Unfortunately, in the end, the story of a young England national team reaching the final was marred with the racist abuse that three young black professionals received on social media. And it’s a story that we’ve seen make headlines all too much this past year.

Keyboard cowards

When Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho all made one of the hardest decisions in football to take a penalty in a major tournament final, as the host nation in Wembley Stadium, you would expect the players to be praised.

And for the most part, they were.

Sadly, some fans thought it was acceptable to racially attack and abuse them. It’s honestly absurd to think that some people believe the logical approach is to try emotionally hurt three young men, the same three that were integral in bringing us so much joy in the first place.

Imagine you have a bad day at work. Maybe you were hosting a big event or had a campaign launch and it didn’t go well. And then afterwards, instead of being supportive, compassionate or offering you kind words of encouragement, you’re subjected to a barrage of racial abuse – it’s an unthinkable scenario.

Because all the people sending these abusive tweets and posts on social media were likely the same people cheering and celebrating the goals. And don’t even get me started on booing players taking the knee…

But while people should be held accountable for their action, much of the problem stems from the platforms themselves, with them simply not doing enough or acting quickly enough to disarm and prevent those use social channels as a way to spread hate.

Anti-social media

Fundamentally, social media platforms were meant to be places to share personal stories, connect with people and celebrate daily lived experiences in society.

They’ve since grown to be so much more – places to shop, interact with brands, vehicles for political campaigns, etc.

But the biggest strength of social media is also its biggest downfall – freedom of speech.

While it’s very important to have free speech in society, there’s a fine line between

The pledge from the likes of Twitter and Facebook to remove racist abuse as it spreads online didn’t go far enough for me. To echo Patrice Evra, if social media can flag Covid-related news immediately to users why can’t they deal with racist messages and posts in real time?

It’s a hard truth, but a truth nonetheless that these platforms enable the spread of racism.

A petition to make users have a verified ID before opening an account feels like an important next step, although a level of consideration would need to be given to people from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have a passport or driving license. In the UK alone, 11 million people don’t have a form of photo ID and that shouldn’t be a reason for them to not partake in national conversations online.

What is unequivocal is the need for harsher punishments for fans that send these messages – you don’t send a racist message by accident. It’s a calculated and cruel decision and it should be met with an equally severe punishment.

Social media platforms need to firmly fight back against abusive content that spreads messages of hate.

I hope the FA, FIFA and UEFA use this experience to come together, take action and make positive systemic change in football. And I hope they work with social media platforms, as well as governments around the world, to educate and cultivate a better society where racism is no longer tolerated.

Our Three Lions

Ultimately, the Euro 2020 tournament ended on a sour note. But, none of that was down to the performance of the England squad but a wider social and cultural issue that we’re still dealing with in the UK.

Looking back over the past month, I am drawn to a brilliant graphic from Football Moves People, which shows us how many of our fantastic England team come from outside of the UK.

Without Saka, Sancho, Rashford, Sterling, Walker, (I really could go on) we wouldn’t have made it so far in the tournament. We probably wouldn’t have a bloody team to begin with – or at the very least not a very good one!

Our young Three Lions squad did the nation proud and I’ve never been more excited for international football. Bring on next year’s World Cup.

I just hope we learn from this moment and collectively do better as a society.

After all, it is coming home…. it’s just a matter of when.