Boris Johnson has condemned the racist abuse of England players on social media after their Euro 2020 final defeat, telling those responsible to “crawl back under the rock from which you emerged”.
The UK’s football policing unit has launched an investigation after players were subjected to racist hate online following the Three Lions’ loss to Italy at Wembley.
Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, who all failed from the spot on Sunday night as England went down on penalties, were targeted with racist comments on social media shortly afterwards.
The Prime Minister, the Football Association and the Duke of Cambridge have all condemned the abuse, while England manager Gareth Southgate described the hate directed at the players as “unforgivable”.
During a Downing Street briefing on coronavirus, Mr Johnson said: “To those who have been directing racist abuse at some of the players, I say shame on you and I hope you will crawl back under the rock from which you emerged.
“Because this entire team played like heroes and I’m sure that this is just the beginning of their achievements, and I say bring on Qatar next year, and let’s also dare to start to hope, together with Ireland, our United Kingdom can host the World Cup in 2030.”
The UK Football Policing Unit (UKFPU) has launched an investigation into the racist abuse targeted at players online and said it is working to trace and identify the perpetrators.
Chief Constable Mark Roberts, National Police Chiefs’ Council football policing lead, said: “While we are all disappointed with the result, the England team have behaved impeccably and provided an excellent example in the way they have conducted themselves throughout.
“That is in sad contrast to the utterly vile comments posted on social media, racially abusing our own players following last night’s game.”
Separately, the Metropolitan Police said they had also launched an investigation into the “utterly abhorrent and totally unacceptable” reports of online abuse.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor said: “We have launched a post-event investigation and will actively pursue and investigate offenders and criminal offences.”
William, who is president of the Football Association (FA), said the players should not have to experience this “abhorrent behaviour” in a statement posted on Twitter.
The duke, who watched the match at Wembley with Prince George and the Duchess of Cambridge, visited the England dressing room after their defeat.
In a tweet written personally by William and posted on the official Kensington Royal account, he said: “I am sickened by the racist abuse aimed at England players after last night’s match.
“It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour. It must stop now and all those involved should be held accountable. W.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she was “disgusted” by the “vile” racist abuse players were subjected to, writing on Twitter: “It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.”
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner accused the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister of giving licence to the racists who abused the England players, following their stance on players taking the knee.
Ms Patel described footballers taking the knee as “gesture politics” during an interview with GB News last month, in which she also did not condemn football fans who booed players for doing so.
Meanwhile, in a briefing to Westminster reporters last month, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said: “On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures… but he fully respects the right of those who do choose to peacefully protest to make their feelings known.”
Three days later, however, when asked if Mr Johnson backs players taking the knee, a Number 10 spokesman said: “Yes. The Prime Minister respects the right of all people to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.
“The Prime Minister wants to see everybody getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo.”
Ms Rayner tweeted: “Let me be clear. The Prime Minister and the Home Secretary gave license to the racists who booed the England players and are now racially abusing England players.”
She added they “…are like arsonists complaining about a fire they poured petrol on. Total hypocrites”.
Facebook, which owns Instagram, said it tries to remove harmful content as quickly as possible and encouraged people to use the tools it offers to block abuse.
A company spokesperson said: “In addition to our work to remove this content, we encourage all players to turn on Hidden Words, a tool which means no-one has to see abuse in their comments or DMs.
“No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we’re committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.”
Twitter said it had proactively removed more than 1,000 posts over the past 24 hours which violated its policy and also taken swift action to permanently suspend a number of accounts.
Football players are regularly subjected to abuse after games, with Rashford and Raheem Sterling among those speaking out against racist hatred.
Following the abuse towards players on Sunday, an FA spokesman called on social media companies to “step up and take accountability and action to ban abusers from their platforms” and urged the Government to “act quickly” to introduce legislation aimed at tackling online hate.