STEPHEN GLOVER: Response to those vile attacks on footballers that proves UK is NOT a racist cesspit


It goes without saying that not a single racist tweet is acceptable and I am certainly in favour of pursuing every offender who can be identified.

Boris Johnson’s announcement yesterday that people guilty of sending racist abuse to footballers will be banned from attending matches is welcome — if it ever happens.

So it is certainly not my intention to downplay racism in football. It clearly exists, as dozens of black footballers who are periodically abused by bigoted fans can attest.

But to judge by much of the media coverage of the past few days, you might think we lived in a society comparable with the old American Deep South or apartheid South Africa.

We have been given the impression that social media is awash with vile comments following England’s defeat in last Sunday’s final, for which three black players have been vilified after they missed penalties in a shootout.

That there are despicable racist weirdos who have cruelly insulted these young men cannot be disputed. But how many are there? The evidence suggests that they are a tiny minority.

Twitter says it has deleted more than 1,000 racist tweets since the match. Since the social media giant is sometimes regrettably slow to spot nasty tweets, this may underestimate the true number.

Let’s say, for the sake of the argument, that 5,000 racist tweets were circulated. Some 322 million Twitter users worldwide are said to send out about 500 million tweets a day, though such figures are of course broad-brush guesstimates.

There are thought to be around 16.5 million Twitter users in the UK — about five per cent of the global total. So we might not be very wide of the mark if we assumed that, every day since Sunday, our home-grown tweeters have sent out some 25 million tweets.

Pictured: People take the knee during a demonstration in support of England player Marcus Rashford in front of a mural in Manchester that was vandalised with racist graffiti following England’s loss in the Euro 2020 final

You get the point. If we assume 5,000 racist tweets over recent days, that is an absolutely minuscule proportion of the 75 million-plus tweets that may have been sent in this country since the weekend. One in 15,000, in fact.

We could reasonably conclude that the true number is even smaller. According to Sanjay Bhandari, chairman of the anti-racist organisation Kick It Out, roughly 70 per cent of all abuse over the past two seasons has come from foreign accounts.

A sizeable percentage of a tiny number of racist tweeters persecuting the three black footballers could be thugs sitting in North Macedonia or wherever, rather than on British soil.

We need to put the problem into perspective. The curse of social media is that they amplify the views of an unpleasant fringe, and give us the false impression that these views are commonplace and mainstream.

The Left — I should probably say the Hard Left — seeks to foster this delusion. It thrives on conflict. It wants us to believe that capitalist society is sick and rotten, and therefore tries to convince people that racism is pervasive.

I’d say that the evidence of the past few days points in the opposite direction. It’s not only that the racist tweets are the work of a deranged fraction of a minority, as I have argued. The way in which people have responded to the extremists should also give us cause for hope.

Pictured: A mural at Trafford Park in Manchester supporting the three England footballers Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who faced racist online abuse after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final

Pictured: A mural at Trafford Park in Manchester supporting the three England footballers Bukayo Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho, who faced racist online abuse after missing penalties in the Euro 2020 final

The mural in Manchester of Marcus Rashford (one of the three black players who missed a spot-kick, though normally an excellent penalty-taker) is a case in point.

Shortly after the shootout, it was horribly defaced. Who knows how many culprits were involved? One? Two? Three? The point is that many more people wanted to make amends.

Dozens of messages of support were placed on the mural before it was restored by a street artist. Hundreds gathered in front of it, with many of them ‘taking the knee’.

No doubt some were making a political point. There were certainly many ‘Black Lives Matter’ placards on display. But I’m sure many protesters also wanted simply to show human solidarity with Rashford, as did those who applauded him and his two teammates on social media.

I am also convinced that the great majority of English — and no doubt British — people sympathised with the three footballers, and abominated the attacks on them by a scattering of Twitter hooligans.

They will have been appalled by the alleged actions of the man on whose Twitter account the words ‘N****** ruined it for us’ were posted on Sunday. The man has claimed his Twitter account was ‘hacked’.

Yet despite this shocking case, I don’t believe that the events of the past few days support the contention of the Left that this is a racist country. On the contrary, Britain is a more racially tolerant place than it has ever been.

But there is room for more understanding on all sides. The black England footballer Tyrone Mings was surely wrong-headed to despatch a tweet implying that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, was somehow responsible for the abuse by racists after Sunday’s defeat.

This is what Mings wrote: ‘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.’

Ms Patel is of Indian heritage, and by her own account she has been a victim of racism herself. She has every right to describe ‘taking the knee’ as gesture politics, and she obviously wasn’t feigning disgust when she criticised the racist tweets earlier this week.

Where she erred was in declining to condemn those who boo players for taking the knee. Booing is always rude and disrespectful, whether directed at another country’s national anthem or at people genuflecting. Priti Patel seemed virtually to condone it, and she should not have done so.

Pictured L-R: England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka

Pictured L-R: England players Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling and Bukayo Saka

I also very much doubt, by the way, that when the England players take the knee they are in any way endorsing the radical policies of Black Lives Matter such as ‘defunding’ the police. They are trying to make a point.

If players wish to take the knee, let them. If politicians or others want to suggest that it is a gesture made for show without practical benefit — well, that is a perfectly respectable point of view to which people should be entitled without attracting wild accusations of racism.

The truth is that there are no significant philosophical differences between Priti Patel and England footballers such as Tyrone Mings. They all abhor racism. Mings could be a little more reflective. Patel might be a little less combative — and perhaps more reflective, too.

But the fact that she and four other people of colour are members of a Cabinet of 23 people makes my point — that Britain is much more at ease with racial diversity than was the case even a decade ago.

No doubt we can and will do better. There will be racism in Britain until the last bigot falls silent on the terraces — and one should never underrate the idiocy of some fans. After David Beckham was sent off at the 1998 World Cup, his effigy was seen dangling from a hangman’s noose at a football match.

Not all England supporters are civilised and intelligent. The beautiful game attracts some ugly characters. But let’s not mistake the racism of an unrepresentative minority for what the country really feels. A few Twitter louts do not speak for modern England.

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