English soccer players targeted by racist attacks following Euro Cup loss


Danny Lawson

The vandalized mural commissioned in recognition of Marcus Rashford’s work to tackle child food poverty is now covered up by messages of support from fans.

Although many Italian fans celebrated the soccer team’s second victory at the UEFA European Championship finals this summer, the racially charged backlash received by three of England’s players has put a damper on much of the world’s reactions. 

Controversy surrounding racism was nothing new heading into the tournament’s final this year. Players of several teams (including England) took a knee before the start of each game to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, which resulted in heated debates raised by the opposition. These divisions in the movement’s support were on full display when three of England’s black players—Marcus Rashford (‘11), Bukayo Saka (‘25), and Jadon Sancho (‘17)—were subjected to racial slander following their failures to score their penalty shots and costing England victory. Messages they received ranged from the dehumanizing usage of the monkey emoji to calls for the players to “go back home,” with many of the abusive attacks originating in the UK. 

The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) hosts the Euros every four years (two years after the World Cup). It was set to take place in 2020, but the pandemic pushed its start to June of 2021. Despite having participated in nine Euros, England has never won the competition. 

This year’s final was held on 11 July at Wembley Stadium in London between England and Italy. The game went down to the wire, ending in penalty kicks (often referred to as PK’s) after the score remained 1-1 throughout the entirety of overtime. England’s advancement in the finals and the home field advantage thrilled English fans at the prospect of witnessing a historical win, but the dream ended after the shootout resulted in Italy edging England out by a single shot. 

Since the final, fans of the English team took to rallying behind the players, sending out messages in support online and through heartfelt letters and tributes, while Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have removed hundreds of racist messages and suspended offensive accounts. Additionally, politicians on all sides of the spectrum have spoken out against the racist attacks. Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who historically refused to condemn spectators who booed players for taking a knee, took to Twitter to release a statement: “This England team deserves to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.” 

According to the BBC, the UK Football Policing Unit received 600 reports of racist comments sent to England’s black players after the defeat and judged 207 to be criminal. Police have arrested 11 people as of early August in their ongoing investigation into social media messages after the Euro 2020 final. While the true extent of the hate against England’s players is still being examined, it is clear that the racial tensions that exploded in the summer of 2020 continue to play a role in all aspects of life, even soccer.