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Three England soccer players have been targeted with racist abuse after missing penalties in Sunday night’s Euro 2020 final, including direct threats to their safety, in far-right and neo-Nazi channels.
Racist abuse flooded mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram within seconds of the game ending on Sunday night, but more serious threats against Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were made on alternative platforms like Telegram, in channels populated by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The abuse has been coming from channels based in the U.S. as well as those in the U.K., and groups typically focused on QAnon and COVID conspiracies have also been sharing memes and racist slurs.
Telegram’s hands-off approach to moderation has allowed these racist slurs and threats to spread unchecked, Ciarán O’Connor, an analyst who tracks extremists at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told VICE News.
“The three players have been singled out and subjected to explicit racial abuse—potentially more extremist in tone than other platforms given Telegram’s negligent hands-off approach to content moderation that gives extremist and racist channels a safe space to promote this hate,” O’Connor said. “These same channels have also used the result as a means to criticise diversity and blame it for England’s loss.”
One of the most widespread racist narratives being shared in these channels is that Sunday night’s game is supposed proof that diversity is a failed exercise—and a mocking of the notion that while the English team is viewed by many as a model for diversity and unity, that’s what let them down in the end.
“They are celebrating the victory of ‘white’ Italy against diverse England,” O’Connor said. “One channel has repeatedly posted ‘racial purity wins’ over and over, and others have shared these sentiments.”
England lost the final of the delayed Euro 2020 competition on penalties to Italy on Sunday night with Rashford, Sancho and 19-year-old Saka, who are Black, missing penalties in the shootout.
Within seconds of England losing the game, the trio were immediately subjected to racist abuse on social media, including monkey emojis, slurs and taunts to "get out of my country."
The players’ Instagram accounts were flooded with racist slurs while many on Twitter shared racist comments, including white supremacist messages claiming that Italy won because it was a team of white players.
The Football Association said it was ”appalled by the online racism that has been aimed at some of our England players on social media.”
The organization, which oversees soccer in England, said it “will do all we can to support the players affected while urging the toughest punishments possible for anyone responsible.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also tweeted his support of the players and condemned what he called the “disgusting behavior” online.
“This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media. Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.”
London’s Metropolitan Police issued a statement late on Sunday to say it was launching an investigation into “offensive and racist” online posts towards the three players.
Lawmakers have condemned social media companies’ response to the abuse the players received, London Lord Mayor Sadiq Khan said the social media giants “need to act immediately to remove and prevent this hate.”
Twitter told VICE News that “the abhorrent racist abuse directed at England players last night has absolutely no place” on its platforms and said that in the past 24 hours, using a combination of machine-learning and human review, it has removed over 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended “a number of accounts for violating our rules.”
Facebook, which owns Instagram, said it had “quickly removed comments and accounts directing abuse at England’s footballers last night and we’ll continue to take action against those that break our rules.” It didn’t say how many posts it had removed but urged the players to activate its Hidden Words feature that allows users to hide abusive content from their comments and direct messages.