Ugly Soccer Racism Gives Rise to Attractive Crisis Statements

Thom Weidlich 07.15.21


Adding to the anguish of England losing the final of the European soccer championship Sunday was the racism spewed on the three Black players who missed their penalty kicks. If there’s any consolation in the situation, it’s the quick slew of statements from politicos and others who condemned the ugliness.

The fervor around the match was understandable. England hadn’t made it to the final of a major tournament in 55 years, according to The New York Times. So the loss was agonizing. But the bile aimed on the three young players through social media was vile.

Yet the responses came fast, furious and strong. It’s both a crisis communications lesson and an indicator that, more than ever, this discrimination won’t be tolerated. Corporate communicators would be well advised to take note of the prompt action.

‘Totally Unacceptable’

“We could not be clearer that anyone behind such disgusting behaviour is not welcome in following the team,” tweeted the Football Association, governing body of English football. Prince William, president of the association, also spoke out. “It is totally unacceptable that players have to endure this abhorrent behaviour,” he tweeted. The Union of European Football Associations weighed in.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also angered. “This England team deserve to be lauded as heroes, not racially abused on social media,” he wrote. “Those responsible for this appalling abuse should be ashamed of themselves.” (He and Home Secretary Priti Patel were criticized for their statements because of their previous equivocal messages regarding those who boo players taking a knee to protest racism.)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan went further, demanding the platform companies take action (creating a crisis for Facebook and Twitter). “Those responsible for the disgusting online abuse we have seen must be held accountable — and social media companies need to act immediately to remove and prevent this hate,” he wrote.

Targeted Athletes

Others also called for such action, including Arsenal, for whom one of the three targeted national-team athletes, 19-year-old Bukayo Saka (pictured), plays. (Four people have been arrested for the abuse, the BBC reported today.)

Perhaps most poignant were the heartfelt words of England manager Gareth Southgate at a press conference. “They should be, and I think they are, incredibly proud of what they’ve done,” he said of the team. “For some of them to be abused is unforgivable really.”

Many U.K. papers ran a photo of Southgate consoling Saka after he missed his kick.

Photo Credit: Arsenal F.C.

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter on crisis communications. Each week we highlight a crisis story in the news or a survey or study with an eye toward the type of best practices and strategies you can put to work each day. Click here to subscribe.

Related:Euro Soccer Commits Costly ErrorUS Soccer Scores PR ‘Own Goal’ With Legal Strategy