England and Italy fans hold aloft their respective flags. Image Credit: Reuters

Not a very sporting outcome

Last week a football game reached its crescendo with the final played at Wembley, England. The championship featured England on one hand and Italy on the other. England that has not won a final game in 55 years was expected to bring the Cup home. But when all was done and dusted, it was the Italian team that took the Cup back to Rome. The gathered crowd, led by Prince William and Kate were left in utter shock and dismay as England failed to convert key penalties and allowed the Italians to swarm over the field in victorious glee.

The dismay soon turned into something darker as some English fans took to social media to vent their scorn with racial taunts against the players of colour who were unfortunate to have missed key penalty shots at the goal. These players who have served their country wholeheartedly and ensured key victories were now being harassed and abused because they happened to be black.

But vile words were not just being used by drunken British football hooligans. Paul Bradbury, a member of the Pontesbury Parish Council in Shropshire allegedly scripted on his Facebook account, ‘whites-only in future England teams’ after Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka missed penalties in the Euro final. He also added, ‘F*** taking the knee’- a reference to players kneeling in support of black victims everywhere, and completed it with ‘Black lives f*** up England again’.

He and thousands of others were undoubtedly encouraged by the words of politicians like the British Home Secretary, Priti Patel (herself of Indian origin) who was appointed to the post by Boris Johnson in 2019, and who a month prior to the flood of racial attacks against the English footballers, went public with some damning statements that could have been interpreted by her followers that it was OK to be racist.

She declared that antiracism protests are “not the answer”, and that footballers take the knee as gesture politics. Fans can boo if they want, she added. “I just don’t support people participating in that type of ‘gesture politics.” Priti Patel had also called for an end to racism protests, at a time when racism is alive and flourishing in many parts of the western world.

Tyrone Mings, an English footballer, accused her of ‘stoking the fire’ of racism. Responding to her tweet that she was “disgusted” by the outpouring of racist abuse targeting the players on social media following the game, Mings minced no words when he admonished her with ‘You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our antiracism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

Mings said she had “stoked the fire” by refusing to criticise fans who booed the England team for taking the knee. “Wembley there was a hugely positive reaction to us as well. I don’t think that should be overshadowed by the minority that refuses to accept the reasons or doesn’t agree.”

In recent times we have been seeing more and more racial epithets being encouraged by politicians and personalities. Who could forget the former US President Donald Trump and his tirade of ‘Total and complete shutdown of Muslims (from some countries) entering the US’ in 2015? Or his chants against the rapists and murderers coming from Mexico into America’s backyards? “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “ … They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

Or when he asked: “Why are we having all these people from s*** countries come here?” in reference to migrants from some African countries. Trump tweeted “Go back to crime-infested places from which they came in 2019” about US Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, who were vocal in support of his impeachment. He also fostered animosity against the Chinese with his infamous ‘China Virus’ allegations that he used at every opportunity.

Let it be understood; Donald Trump and Priti Patel did not create racism. They simply allowed the floodgates of repressed hatred in some against people of colour or of different religions or sects to be let loosened and vocalised. They allowed this kind of mindset go mainstream: I mean if Trump or Priti can do it, why not me.

Today, racial injustice is prevalent in all corners of the world. Racism is taking a foothold in many nations (some in Asia too) with minority Muslims and Christians under attack with a perception that such persecution is being state-sanctioned. The end results would indeed be tragic if these governments do not check it immediately.

Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena