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Gary Neville accuses Boris Johnson of 'promoting racism' after government officials 'ridiculed' England's players for taking a knee during their Euro 2020 campaign and says he 'expected' online abuse after penalty heartache

Daily Mail
Daily Mail
 2021-07-12

Gary Neville has accused Boris Johnson of 'promoting racism' after the Prime Minister condemned the abuse directed at England's players following their penalty shoot-out defeat by Italy.

Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were racially abused on social media after all three players missed their penalties, which saw Italy crowned Euro 2020 champions at Wembley.

Johnson added his voice to those condemning the social media abuse on Monday morning with a tweet which read: 'This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media.

'Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.'

But Neville insisted the Prime Minister has been part of the problem.

He told Sky Sports: 'The taking of the knee over the last month, when the players tried to explain it was to promote equality and be against racism, was ridiculed by our top-ranking government officials.

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In a tweet Mr Johnson condemned the abuse England's players received on social media

'So when we get racist abuse at the end of a football match, at the end of a tournament, I expect it, unfortunately, because it exists and it's actually promoted by the Prime Minister.

'I knew the minute that Bukayo Saka, Rashford and Sancho missed last night, I knew we would be waking up this morning to headlines of racist abuse.'

England players took a knee throughout the tournament to promote equality and reject racism and discrimination of any kind. However, they were booed by some sections of the crowd on each occasion.

When players were first jeered during a warm-up game with Austria, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman repeatedly refused to condemn fans.

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Bukayo Saka was subjected to racist abuse on social media after missing a penalty against Italy
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Racists took to Twitter with vile slurs after the Euro 2020 match ended in disappointment for millions of England fans

Johnson eventually told supporters not to boo players but has previously said he is opposed to taking the knee on grounds that he prefers actions to gestures.

Neville spoke to Sky News in another interview and made reference to Johnson's past comments about Muslim women.

'He said Muslim women look like letterboxes,' Neville said. 'Should we not be highlighting this more often?

'Gareth Southgate and Boris Johnson are absolutely poles apart. If you look at Boris Johnson, every time he speaks, and this is nothing to do with Tory Party, Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, I really am disenfranchised and disconnected from what I see in politics at this moment in time.

'There is a lack of leadership. Gareth over these last few weeks, whether he's lost, whether he's talking about an incident like racism, he talks with dignity, it's genuine, it's compassionate, it connects to the people of this country, it's someone that I feel I can connect to and feel like I know.

'When I sometimes hear MPs speak I think "what is happening here? How can we vote for them?"

'Gareth Southgate over these last three to four years, throughout his life actually, has carried himself brilliantly.'

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Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford were also abused after they missed their spot-kicks

Downing Street rejected Neville's claim, with Johnson's official spokesperson saying: 'I would utterly reject that claim. The Prime Minister set out this morning his response to some of the awful comments that we’ve seen.'

When asked about Neville's allegation that Johnson and other ministers suggested it was fine to boo players taking the knee, the spokesman said: 'It's not accurate.

'The Prime Minister was clear that he wanted to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on. He made that clear on the 11th, before England's first game.'

Southgate this morning savaged the abuse of his players as 'unforgivable'.

The England boss hit out after Prince William had also branded the abuse unacceptable and sickening after the defeat by Italy.

Southgate said: 'It's just not what we stand for. We have been a beacon of light in bringing people together in people being able to relate to the national team, and the national team stands for everybody and so that togetherness has to continue.

'We have shown the power our country has when it does come together and has that energy and positivity together.

'It's my decision who takes the penalties, it's not a case of players not volunteering or more experienced players backing out.'

Facebook, which owns Instagram, this morning said it had tried to remove comments and accounts directing abuse at England's footballers, but many were still visible this lunchtime.

The tech giant said in a statement: 'No one thing will fix this challenge overnight, but we're committed to keeping our community safe from abuse.'

Twitter said it had taken 1,000 racist tweets down and suspended accounts.

But Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden slammed the social media giants, adding: 'I share the anger at appalling racist abuse of our heroic players.

'Social media companies need to up their game in addressing it and, if they fail to, our new Online Safety Bill will hold them to account with fines of up to 10 per cent of global revenue.'

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Gareth Southgate savaged the abuse of his England players as 'unforgivable' on Monday
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Prince William also branded the abuse unacceptable and sickening after the defeat by Italy

Prince William led earlier calls to stop the racist posting of the England team, branding abuse at players 'totally unacceptable'.

The Duke of Cambridge, who was at the game last night with Kate and George and is president of the FA, said those behind them should be punished.

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.'

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