The National:

I CONFESS: I’m not a huge follower of football, and I only watch games to socialise with friends. The last time I seriously sat down and enjoyed watching a major tournament was the World Cup final in 2018, which France won.

We were optimistic, exhilarated, had French flags painted all over our faces. We cheered with strangers in the streets and found a new pride in our country. French rapper Vegedream’s hit song, Ramenez la coupe à la maison (Bring The Cup Home), with catchy coupé-décalé beats in reference to his roots in Ivory Coast, was playing everywhere, and the song’s official video showed people of all races and ages, celebrating together. It didn’t have much in common with Emily in Paris, but it was more real, and infinitely more likeable.

Even though England lost to Italy in this year’s Euro tournament, the fervour of English supporters and the pride in a diverse and talented team reminded me of that. The moments of unity behind the team and the excitement to see them go to the final for the first time in decades were probably much needed after such a difficult year.

However, in defeat, some of the vilest of instincts came back, as if for some fans, losing the competition gave licence for violence, both physical and verbal. Are they real supporters if they are only able to behave well when things work in their advantage?

I was the last person to be surprised when England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka were hit with an abhorrent deluge of racism after missing penalties.

This was, unfortunately, foreseeable: non-white athletes belong to the country they are competing for in success, but in failure, a queue will form to remind them of their otherness. It seems that Black people are only worth respecting and praising if they do something heroic: failure, or just being average, is not an option.

This is precisely the kind of racism that was being denounced by players taking the knee, and it is beyond belief that this should be a contentious issue. Of course, the gesture in itself will not solve racism and inequalities, but it is still a strong symbol watched by millions of people around the world.

The National: Marcus Rashford and two of his teammates were racially abused after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final Marcus Rashford and two of his teammates were racially abused after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final

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It is all the stronger coming from players like Rashford who have used their fame and influence to speak for the voiceless, inspired children to stand up for what is right, showed us that there is no contradiction between fighting against any form of hatred and poverty, while being on the receiving end of endless abuse.

But the irony is that a gesture showing solidarity to people who are victims of racism and calling for unity against hatred has been ridiculed by senior politicians who labelled it as divisive.

In the meantime, showing hostility against this gesture was seen as normal. Condoning people booing the players for displaying an anti-racist message only gave legitimacy to the chorus of racists, who felt comforted in their vilest behaviour. The words and actions of people who are in power have consequences in real life.

This is why Tyrone Mings was absolutely right to call out Home Secretary’s Priti Patel’s contradictions yesterday, when he tweeted: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against happens.”

Fortunately, there are voices, even in the Conservative Party, who have the decency to ask for more accountability from the Government when it comes to questions surrounding race. “Dog whistles win votes but destroy nations”, Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi tweeted Priti Patel, urging her party to think about how they contributed to this nasty atmosphere.

Unfortunately, I am not confident she will be heard by a Prime Minister and a Home Secretary with a track record in reactionary views. The hypocrisy of their condemnations is too big to be ignored. These are politicians who are blowing on the embers of culture wars for their own political profit, but who still want to be seen as respectfully and reasonably liberal by clutching their pearls in surprise when the racism in our society appears in broad daylight for all to see. Isn’t that the textbook definition of gesture politics?