The aftermath of this Summer’s European Championships points to wider societal issues in relation to gender based violence and racism. Current Affairs Editor Conor Daly discusses.
The European Championships this Summer were strange from the beginning. Retaining the nametag of Euro 2020 but taking place in 2021, with the pandemic that delayed it still ongoing, as well as an apparent reckless abandonment by Boris Johnson. Lockdown restrictions in Ireland were still in place and yet there were upwards of 60,000 people packed into Wembley to watch England go all the way to the final.
Here are two facts from that tournament decider against Italy. That night in London, there were three missed penalties. All three of the players who missed were young black men. Now, these two pieces of information are in no way related, a concept that many football “fans” apparently struggled to wrap their head around in the immediate fallout from the final. This is what was, and is, so frustrating for these players and many other athletes who have a story of immigration somewhere in their family history. When you’re performing and succeeding, it’s like you can do no wrong; but when you make a mistake, it’s instant alienation. When you’re playing well, you’re English. When you’re not, you’re an immigrant. That was one of the worst parts of this whole scenario. The players themselves as well as the general public knew what was going to happen as soon as those penalties were missed. It’s a damning indictment on how complacent so many people have been in terms of race relations in Britain and Ireland. Looking at issues in the United States often gave a false sense of security that racism wasn’t that big of a deal on this side of the Atlantic. Three kicks of a ball have proven otherwise.
Football didn’t come home. Instead, thousands of people on social media told 19 year old Bukayo Saka, among several other black players, that he was at fault. His skin colour and the fact that his parents were immigrants singled him out. All this despite the fact that Saka was born and raised in England and spent his entire youth career playing international football for England.
Disappointment is completely understandable. Potential anger towards the manager for picking the wrong penalty takers; also understandable. Berating young black men on social media despite calling them heroes in the weeks leading up to this? Unfathomable.
Marcus Rashford has been so prominent with his philanthropy and has even been granted an MBE for his efforts to end child hunger in the UK. Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka have also given back to their communities, but all of this was forgotten when people were plastering their social media pages with foul abuse. A person’s right to avoid racial abuse should not be based on their achievements, it should be an inherent human right. The profile of professional athletes often makes people forget that behind their physical attributes, they are also people with emotions.
Unfortunately England’s black players were not the only group who were subjected to disproportionately negative consequences after the match. Something similarly incredulous is the link between English football matches and domestic violence, a trend which has been proven over past major championships and held true in this tournament as well.
There were statistics flying around social media in the run up to one of the biggest sporting occasions of the year and, ironically, they had nothing to do with football. They were figures which estimated the increase in domestic violence based on the outcome of the match.
According to the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV), it was projected that if England lost, domestic violence would increase by 38% and that England playing, regardless of the result, would also cause an increase, just by a slightly lower margin of 26%. These numbers are baffling in so many ways. Why do women (speaking of the majority of victims) always have to be in the crossfire? It would appear, especially if you reference any number of violent videos that circulated on the day of the match, that some spectators use sporting events as an unconventional mode of therapy. Angry individuals using sport as a free pass to get rid of all their frustrations at the expense of other fans, their partners and also black players on social media.
The fact that a national football team can’t play a match without inadvertently putting a considerable proportion of women in danger is worrying. Reports from the Daily Mail immediately after the final showed that some people were even posting on social media offering up spare rooms to anyone who needed a safe place to stay that night. While this display of community is enlightening, it is also rather disturbing because it should never be necessary. Offering asylum to women who need a safe place to stay sounds like something from a war-torn region, not London after a football match.
The Stack published a story about the correlation between matches and domestic violence around the time of the Euro final, with the jarring title; “If England Gets Beaten, So Will She”. This was in reference to a campaign by the aforementioned NCDV during the 2018 World Cup which was accompanied by the picture of a woman’s nose bleeding to form the St. George’s Cross on her face. It’s an image that stops you in your tracks, but, as of yet, hasn’t stopped the increase in domestic violence on such occasions.
Sport and violence towards women have unfortunately become far too closely related. The conflation of masculinity with misogyny is exacerbated in these hyper-masculine environments. In recent months, Manchester City defender Benjamin Mendy was suspended by his employers amidst an ongoing investigation into four allegations of rape and one allegation of sexual assault between October 2020 and August 2021. There are three plaintiffs involved in the case with one of them said to be under the age of 18.
Of course he is not the first footballer to be investigated or tried for such offences. Former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs has been accused of assaulting multiple women, including his wife. While former Brazilian international Robinho was convicted of rape in Italy in 2017. There are a smattering of others in recent years including Adam Johnson, who received a jail sentence for sexual activity involving an underage girl. Unfortunately these crimes occur in all aspects of life, it is not just exclusive to athletes. However the correlation between sport and gender based violence is one which keeps rearing its head.
People using their power and status in order to get away with minor and major indiscretions is sadly an old tale. Sport, in general, is a way of bringing people together. It unites populations and can improve international relations. There is however a darker side, as with anything, which appears to be particularly evident among football supporters. It seems there is a deep cultural issue at play, one which is in dire need of an overhaul.
Truthfully, there are so many questions to be asked; of ourselves, others and society as a whole. The fallout from the Euro 2020 final is but one signifier of this. The media does tend to blow things out of proportion from time to time, giving people the impression that the state of the world is far more dire than it actually is. In this case, it would be a stretch to use that excuse. There are very few ways to interpret clear racial abuse and domestic violence as anything other than totally unacceptable and, in a word, despicable.
If three missed penalties are all it takes for a unifying tournament to highlight everything that is wrong with our society, how fragile is the societal progress that we have made in the last 50 years and, where do we go from here?