Racism after Euro 2020 final showed why those who oppose 'taking the knee' are wrong – Christine Jardine MP

Was there a horrible inevitability about what would come next as soon as the penalties were missed?

England and Scotland players take a knee in protest against racism ahead of the Euro 2020 match at Wembley Stadium in London (Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
England and Scotland players take a knee in protest against racism ahead of the Euro 2020 match at Wembley Stadium in London (Picture: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

A young colleague told me that some black friends had abuse shouted at them while making their way home from the England-Italy game. "It's always your kind that lets us down." We all knew it was there, simmering amongst those who booed any team taking the knee this summer.

But watching it boil over against fans, footballers and someone who has made a real and determined difference to the well-being of vulnerable children should be a wake-up call for all of us.

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Racism hasn't been beaten, its advocates are always there, poised to attack those whose success, and popularity, is a bitter pill for them to swallow.

It is a long time since I have admired a young sports person for their efforts off the field quite as much as I do Marcus Rashford.

Certainly he has the advantage, for me, of being a Manchester United player, but his food for kids campaign has elevated his appeal and influence far beyond football.

At just 23, he has become a role model.

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A mural of England footballer Marcus Rashford, repaired after it was vandalised, has been covered with messages of goodwill and support (Picture: Charlotte Tattersall/Getty Images)

A young man, hugely successful, who doesn't just remember where he came from but carries it with pride and channels his success into making a difference.

But that did not protect him from the bigots when they found their excuse in the simple fact of a football bouncing back off a post instead of into the net.

Rashford, Sancho and Saka are young men with astonishing talent at the start of careers in which they have the potential to achieve fantastic things on the football pitch. And they do.

But we should remember that it is a sport. We were simply disappointed in the result of a football game at the end of a tournament which was thrown into perspective by the cardiac arrest of a player on the pitch.

And before everyone starts dismissing the shameful behaviour of the past few days as ‘typical of football fans’ or ‘it’s that social media’, it is not.

It is individuals who are racist, who use football as their excuse and social media as a vehicle for their nastiness.

And politicians of all political parties, and all colours, have a duty to call it out in all its forms and expressions, in every walk of life.

Regardless of whether it is their voters who they suspect may be the ones expressing the racism.

We also should be careful about joining that increasingly frustrating chorus of “oh, but it’s different in Scotland”.

I am afraid it’s not.

In Scotland, the most recent figures, for 2019 to 2020, show that there were 1,737 recorded racially aggravated incidents.

But those do not include every time young people are shouted at in the street, have comments muttered at them or are asked by strangers where it is they come from when the answer is here.

I know from friends, and my MP inbox that black people and ethnic minorities in this country are made to feel uncomfortable every single day.

It can range from the micro-aggressions I mentioned to much worse.

When I ask they tell me that we can all do something by making sure we actively listen to them, support them and call out abuse.

Those of us who are politicians have a responsibility, and an opportunity, to promote change, whether it is supporting constituents who come to us with allegations of racism or tackling the wider issue.

I would suggest that we do not copy Boris Johnson’s knee-jerk reaction this week when the failures of his government to condemn, never mind tackle, racism were exposed in the heat of the post Euro 2020 controversy.

Racists will be banned from football matches. OK. But that isn’t going to be enough.

Any action to clamp down on the behaviour we have seen is, of course, welcome but the problem goes much deeper and how will that, on its own affect attitudes?

We have seen that mistake made before, in Scotland, when Alex Salmond jumped on a populist bandwagon to pronounce the ill-conceived and ultimately cancelled Sectarian Abuse Act.

Hailed as the solution in 2011, it was scrapped in 2018 after concerns over its practicality, fairness and effectiveness.

Sectarianism, like its close cousin racism, needs to be tackled appropriately through investment in education and tackling the social problems that lead to bitterness and bigotry in adults.

Our children start off in life with open minds and colour blindness. They do not see anything other than their friend or the sportsperson that they admire.

So many of us have experienced that moment of pride when your child introduces you to the new friend whose colour has never merited mention.

It didn’t occur to them that there was any reason that it should. They were right.

It is society which draws it to their attention, and adults who teach them to think it is significant.

Over the past two years, we have seen an awakening in this country of the need to recognise and address the racism which infected our history and has been endemic in our society.

Taking the knee at sports events was a small but constant reminder that we mustn’t be complacent.

Those who dismissed it as an unnecessary gesture have surely been given the starkest of illustrations this week of why they are wrong.

And the immediate public outpouring of support for those abused footballers has been reassurance that the country recognises that.

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of that came in the emotional tributes and messages which engulfed the vandalised mural of Marcus Rashford in his home town.

One put it simply, and best: “Thank you.”

Christine Jardine is Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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