After England’s loss in the Euro 2020 final, it didn’t take long for the narrative to turn from a tournament of togetherness to racist abuse being hurled at players, namely Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka. Now, the story’s moved on again, as their teammate Tyrone Mings has addressed Home Secretary Priti Patel in what can only be described as a mic drop moment.
Rashford, Sancho and Saka missed their penalties in the all-important shootout against Italy. They also happen to be young Black men. And this latter fact meant that, upsettingly but also unsurprisingly, they were targeted with vile racist abuse. Online, it was rife, with Twitter removing tweets and permanently suspending a number of accounts, and the hatred spilled onto the streets too, with a mural of Marcus Rashford defaced in Manchester.
Many have taken to social media to offer messages of support for, and solidarity with, the affected players. One high profile figure who’s spoken out against the racist abuse is Home Secretary, Priti Patel.
“I am disgusted that England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media,” she wrote. “It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.”
In response, 28-year-old Tyrone Mings, who also plays for England, hit back with a scathing dismantling of Patel’s anti-racism statement.
"You don't get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as 'Gesture Politics' and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we're campaigning against, happens,” Mings responded.
His tweet referenced comments Patel made on GB News in June, when she described footballers taking the knee at the start of games as “gesture politics”.
Patel said she did not support "people participating in that type of gesture politics".
Asked if she would criticise fans who booed England players taking the knee she said: "That's a choice for them, quite frankly".
With nearly half a million likes at the time of writing, and countless comments of respect and agreement, Mings’ words seem to have summarised how many are feeling.
Mings’ Twitter bio makes clear he sees himself as more than a footballer, with business and philanthropy both included in how he describes his work on the platform. And while he and his teammate also at the heart of this story, Marcus Rashford, are increasingly using their voices to work for social justice, that isn’t without its backlash.
Following England’s defeat, Conservative MP Natalie Elphicke suggested in a WhatsApp message to fellow MPs that rather than “playing politics” (i.e - spending time campaigning to feed hungry children), Rashford should have concentrated on football.
Elphicke released an apology shortly afterwards, saying: “I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focused on his football.”
But despite the disparaging words from those in power, the fact that we’re here, in 2021, discussing three young Black men being racially abused for the way they kicked a ball, says a lot about what needs to be done to change the culture of racism that persists in this country. Mings, Rashford and their teammates are doing important work, and though it should by no means fall on their shoulders, we should all applaud them for that.
As for Priti Patel and her boss, Boris Johnson? A growing number of voices online are urging them to acknowledge how their statements and policies play into the situation we’re seeing unfold currently.
Labour’s Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has echoed Mings’ words, saying Patel and Johnson “gave license to the racists” and are like “arsonists complaining about the fire they poured petrol on. Total hypocrites.”
In response to Cosmopolitan’s request for comment from Priti Patel, a Home Office spokesperson asked us to refer to her House of Commons statement and tweet condemning racism, shared before Mings’ remarks.
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