England Player Says Minister Stoked Racism Before Euro Final

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Boris Johnson’s government faces a high-profile row with the England soccer team over racism, after a Black player accused a senior minister of “stoking the fire” during the just-ended European Championship.

Tyrone Mings, a defender who plays for Premier League club Aston Villa, said Home Secretary Priti Patel had aggravated tensions by refusing to support players “taking the knee” before matches, which the England team regards as an anti-racism stance. In June, Patel called it “gesture politics.”

Several Black England soccer players were subject to online racist abuse after the national team’s defeat in Sunday’s Euro 2020 final. It began after Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka each failed to score in a decisive penalty shoot-out against Italy.

The row is fraught with risk for Johnson given the popularity of the England team, which has received plaudits for reaching its first major tournament final since 1966 and whose players have raised awareness on social issues.

The premier will raise the issue of online abuse in a meeting on Tuesday with social media companies, his spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters on Tuesday. The meeting was arranged before the latest bout of online abuse aimed at England’s players, he said.

England Player Says Minister Stoked Racism Before Euro Final

Racism Row

The spat with Mings follows weeks of controversy over whether the government should have supported the England side in “taking the knee” as their way of highlighting racial injustice.

Johnson triggered a backlash ahead of the tournament when he didn’t condemn fans booing the players’ stance at the start of matches, comments the prime minister’s political opponents said confirmed the impression of a leader happy to fuel so-called culture wars.

Johnson, when asked on Monday whether he would now take the knee, avoided answering the question directly. Many in his party have opposed the stance, with some arguing it is affiliated to a communist movement.

“I think people should feel free to show respect and how much they condemn racism,” Johnson said, adding he was at the match on Sunday and that the whole crowd was respectful. “I didn’t hear a single boo.”

Blain defended Johnson and Patel, pointing out that the premier had urged fans to “cheer, not boo” the England team before the tournament started. Patel, he said, “has been clear there is no place for racism in our country and that’s why she is backing the police to hold those responsible accountable.”

But Conservative MP Johnny Mercer said Mings was “completely right” to criticize the government. “Very uncomfortable with the position we Conservatives are needlessly forcing ourselves into,” he said on Twitter. “We must not lose our way.”

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