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Racial abuse in sports exposes UK's ugly scars

By Zhao Manfeng | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-07-14 13:48
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England's manager Gareth Southgate embraces Bukayo Saka after he failed to score a penalty during a penalty shootout after extra time during the Euro 2020 soccer championship final match between England and Italy at Wembley stadium in London, Sunday, July 11, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

It is indeed sad for England, which has a reputation for a "gentlemanly" culture, to confront a barrage of racist abuse against the three black players who missed penalty kicks in the final shootout of the UEFA European Championship.

Soon after the final, Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were targeted on social media after Italy won the title.

Though the racist attacks were condemned by the England Football Association, FIFA, London's Metropolitan Police, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince William, the incident reveals a larger social problem of racism that has deep roots in the sports of the United Kingdom and other self-proclaimed "human rights" protectors.

Footballers are often lambasted on social media after losing a match, but the worst abuse is typically reserved for black footballers and other ethnic minorities. Key figures in English football, including the Premier League and its clubs, boycotted social media in April to draw attention to such abuse.

It is not limited to the soccer field. Racial discrimination also exists in other sports. Even British four-time Olympic marathon champion Mo Farah is not immune. The distance runner had been targeted with racist messages claiming he is not allowed to celebrate Christmas after sending his social media followers a goodwill gesture in 2017. And in 2008, Farah released a video on social media showing him being racially harassed by German airport staff. Farah is seen being pushed toward the departure gates by an airport officer.

Lewis Hamilton, a seven-time Formula 1 world champion, also suffered similar treatment. In a social media post, he voiced his condemnation of the attack and the underlying issues faced by minorities in sport: "The pressure to deliver is felt by every sportsperson but when you are a minority representing your country this is a layered experience. Success would feel like a double victory, but a miss feels like a two-fold failure when it's compounded with racist abuse…We must work towards a society that doesn't require Black players to prove their value or place in society only through victory."

After all the postponements and cancellations in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the year 2021 is poised to be a sporting bonanza. The Olympics, Paralympics, and football's European Championship and Copa América all take place after a year's delay.

Sports have a unique opportunity to influence, educate and express positive views given their emotional connection to fans – doing so in a way that bridges rather than exacerbates divides will be key to staying true to the spirit of the game.

If not, then racist attacks like these will continue to expose the ugly underbelly of British society.

The author is a writer with China Daily.

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