By Tayo Ogunbiyi
Initially, I rooted for Portugal to win the just concluded Euro 2020 soccer competition. However, after the Portuguese crashed out, I quickly pitched my tent with the French. Following the exit of the French, I switched allegiance to the English team.
I chose to support the English for two reasons. One, they have made remarkable contributions to the development of the beautiful game, especially via the well-packaged English Premiership.
Second, they have had a lamentable history of near misses since they last won a major football competition in 1966 via the World Cup. Against the Italians at the final, my heart was fully with the English. However, like it sometimes happens in football, the demons of penalties swayed the outcome in favour of the Italians. It was quite painful to see the English lose in such hurting fashion, especially in front of their home fans.
The fallout of England’s loss has, however, altered my romance with the English. Now, I am actually happy they lost the final.
As earlier noted, the final was decided by penalties. Ironically, three out of the English five penalties were taken and missed by three of their Black players-Marcus Rashford, 23; Bukayo Saka, 19 and Jadon Sancho 21.
Minutes after the final match, hell was let loose on the social media as some English fans posted abusive racial messages that denigrated the personality of the players. All of them have since become victims of cruel social media venoms.
A mural of Rashford, who had campaigned for poor children to be given more support during the pandemic, was also reportedly covered in abuse.
The issue of online abuse of players led to British soccer authorities briefly boycotting social media platforms before the Euro 2020 tournament.
Racism remains a major issue in Europe, America and other parts of the world. But the dimension of the current episode is quite astounding.
One still finds it amazing that some fans chose to scapegoat the three Black players as being responsible for England’s loss on the basis of their colour. This is quite disheartening considering what they have offered the English squad and fans over the years. This is so nauseating. If this is who the English are, then they don’t deserve to win anything.
Bearing in mind all that the players in question have achieved for the English national team, they deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.
For a long time, Black footballers in England have had to contend with the reality of racism. Many of them have boldly spoken out about the issue in recent times. Rashford, who missed England’s third penalty, has spoken widely against the malady. Recently, he referred to the racist abuse he suffered from soccer fans as “humanity and social media at its worst”.
At this year’s Euro tournament, England’s team took a knee before games in a demonstration against racial inequality, to the jeering of some fans.
Musa Okwonga, an English soccer writer, aptly captures the whole episode on Twitter:
“Hate is a strong word. But the racist relying on Black English footballers to bring them glory as if they were their servants, then turning on them as soon as they fell short of their dreams, have my deepest contempt”.
Such ridiculous two-faced tumble!
According to the late American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jnr., three major evils exist in the world. These, he said, are the evil of racism, the evil of poverty, and the evil of war.
In contemporary context, it would be a blunder to assume that racism no longer exists in our world. In Europe, America and other parts of the world, racism, sadly, remains a contentious subject.
The death of George Floyd drew widespread outrage last May, after a video circulated online showing Officer Derek Chawin holding his knee on the late musician’s neck as he gasped for breath, appropriately validating the shocking existence of racism in our world.
Black Lives Matter, BLM, a decentralised political and social movement protesting against incidents of police brutality and all racially motivated violence against black people, is a global response to the depressing reality of racism in modern society.
Currently, the attention of the world is focused on combating the COVID-19 pandemic. This is rightly so in view of its devastating effects on the global economy and all other aspects of life. But then, racism is a worse evil than COVID-19. It is highly contagious, easily transmitted to others, and too often unseen and disguised in those seemingly healthy. It is a social and spiritual disease that kills faster than COVID-19.
The antidote is for the whole world to unite against the evil of racism as it is doing against COVID-19. We must advocate unambiguous commitments to equal dignity and human rights all over the world.
We must condemn every form of racist tendency, no matter how subtle it seems.
To think that we are in the 21st century and some are still drawing us back to the era of the ignominious slave trade is, to say the least, appalling and foolish.
Well, this is the right time to distinguish the wise from the foolish. The wise will opt to speak out against racism, while the foolish will overtly and covertly speak in its defence.
In the words of the late Nelson Mandela: “Our world is not divided by race, colour, gender or religion. Our world is divided into the wise people and fools. And the fools divide themselves by race, colour, gender or religion”. How apt!
As for the three Black players and others who have been victims of horrific racial abuse, they should hold their heads high in glory. They are heroes, not villains.
It takes tremendous guts for a 19-year-old to opt to take decisive penalties in such a tension-soaked match being watched by a global audience in excess of one billion. As we say in local parlance: ‘thumbs up guys; nothing do you’.
Surely, your persecutors are in need of urgent medical attention!
*Ogunbiyi is Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja