Duke of Cambridge: ‘Despicable’ racist abuse of footballers ‘must stop now’

The Duke of Cambridge has branded the racist abuse directed at footballers “despicable” and said it “must stop now” after Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford became the latest player targeted.

William, who is the president of the Football Association, spoke out on Sunday night after the Professional Footballers’ Association accused social media companies of lacking the willingness to clamp down on racist posts.

Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and Rashford’s team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial all suffered online racist abuse this week.

Rashford was then targeted after United’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal on Saturday evening, prompting an investigation from Greater Manchester Police and placing further scrutiny on social media platforms as the UK Government plans to introduce new laws on online abuse in 2021.

William tweeted: “Racist abuse – whether on the pitch, in the stands, or on social media – is despicable and it must stop now.

“We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions. That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.

“I commend all those players, supporters, clubs and organisations who continue to call out and condemn this abuse in the strongest terms.”

The PFA called on social networks to demonstrate they are truly committed to tackling a problem it says has been “at crisis point” for two years.

“We have been very clear that social media platforms are an extension of a professional footballer’s workplace,” the PFA said in a statement.

“Every effort must be taken to protect them – and all other users – from racist abuse while using social media. Offline consequences for online hate crimes must be pursued whenever possible.

“Enough time has been given to the networks to demonstrate a willingness to act. We have been at crisis point with this issue for two years. Racism causes trauma and online abuse presents a significant risk to people’s mental health and well-being.

Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League – Emirates Stadium
Arsenal v Manchester United – Premier League – Emirates Stadium

“During our initial meetings with the social networks, they advised us that players could block content that they find offensive. We do not believe the onus should be on an individual to manage the racism they receive.

“With the scale of racist abuse happening on their platforms, we are publicly asking why Twitter, Facebook and Instagram will not prevent users from being able to send explicitly racist terms and emojis? There is no context in which some words are acceptable.

“These steps won’t banish all racist abuse, but it would be a start, demonstrating that the platforms value the diverse membership of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram’s communities. While racist abuse is allowed to continue on each platform, we can only conclude that this is a choice by the companies running the social networks.”

The PA news agency has contacted Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for comment.

Iffy Onuora, the 53-year-old former Gillingham and Huddersfield striker who is set to become the Premier League’s first head of equality, diversity and inclusion, also called on social media companies to act faster to remove abusive content.

Onuora told the PA news agency: “A lot of this is now down to the responsibility of the social media companies.

“In my opinion they’ve been far too slow to take down harmful material, not just in terms of the abuse that footballers have suffered but abuse generally.

“There is technology out there that can protect this a lot quicker than they’ve been minded to move.

“The devil’s in the detail but that has started to come now, and the Government pressure from above will be far greater on social media companies to take action promptly.”

A 49-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of racially abusing Sawyers and Onuora said that was an encouraging development, insisting arrests will act as a powerful deterrent.

“He’s probably thought he can get away with it, a 49-year-old man, so we’ll see what the repercussions are for him,” he said.

“For too long people have thought there’s no consequences to this. That’s the culture that’s got to change as well.

“If lives are turned upside down, if that’s what it’s got to be, I will feel more reassured. When that comes together with social media companies taking stronger action I’ll be a lot more happy.”

Greater Manchester Police said a number of abusive comments directed at United players had been reported and the force would be “investigating these crimes thoroughly”.

“Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those that suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too,” GMP said in a statement.

“These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise.”

I’m not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there’s nothing original in them. I have beautiful children of all colours following me and they don’t need to read it. Beautiful colours that should only be celebrated.

— Marcus Rashford MBE (@MarcusRashford) January 30, 2021

Rashford branded the racist abuse “humanity and social media at its worst”.

He added on Twitter on Saturday night: “Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.

“No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.

“I’m not sharing screenshots. It would be irresponsible to do so and as you can imagine there’s nothing original in them.”