Ministers have vowed to crack down on online racism levelled at footballers as Manchester police confirmed they were launching an investigation into the racial abuse a number of black players received during the last week.
The Manchester United and England striker Marcus Rashford has described the racist abuse he received on Saturday night after United’s draw at Arsenal as “humanity and social media at its worst”. This came as the Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and the Manchester United duo Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial were also all targeted this week.
In a series of tweets, Rashford said he chose not to share screenshots of the messages he had been sent on Instagram as “it would be irresponsible to do so … I have beautiful children of all colours following me and they don’t need to read it”.
The player said: “Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am. No one, or no one comment, is going to make me feel any different. So sorry if you were looking for a strong reaction, you’re just simply not going to get it here.”
On Sunday morning, Greater Manchester police announced they had launched an investigation after being made aware of a number of Manchester United football players suffering abuse on social media accounts between 27 and 30 January.
“Nobody should be subject to such abuse and it is deeply upsetting not only to those who suffer it, but to all those who come across this awful language too,” a GMP spokesperson said.
“These hateful words have no place anywhere in our society whether online or otherwise. A number of these comments have been reported to us and we are liaising with those involved to provide support and we will be investigating these crimes thoroughly.”
The Duke of Cambridge, who is president of the Football Association, issued a statement on Sunday condemning racist abuse in football as despicable and saying it must stop.
Prince William tweeted: “We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions. That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.”
The Football Association has vowed to work with the government and social media platforms to eradicate racist abuse after the succession of incidents.
The governing body had earlier reiterated its commitment to fight discrimination, saying: “We are united with all of football in our abhorrence of racist abuse … We will continue to work with the rest of the game, the government and social media to remove this, and all elements of discrimination from our sport.”
On Monday, Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, held roundtable talks with a selection of current and former Premier League players about tackling discrimination and abuse.
During the meeting players expressed a strong consensus for the introduction of a verification process added to social media platforms, whereby a form of ID is supplied on signing up, in order to easily identify the perpetrators of abuse.
Dowden said it was clear from the roundtable discussions that online posts affected players and that some were choosing to come off social media because of harassment.
“What I heard last week was shocking, and the events of the last few days with more players talking about this show it’s a growing problem,” he said. “No one should have to accept racist abuse as the price to pay for being in the public eye.”
It comes as the government plans to introduce new laws on online abuse and launch a fan-led review of football governance in 2021.
Others who condemned the abuse included Ian Wright, the former Arsenal and England striker. Speaking on Match of the Day, Wright suggested the notion of premoderation to try to stop the abuse that routinely occurred if a player was considered to have underperformed during a match.
“It seems to be a fact if a black player plays poorly – or they think they did – they come with all the emojis and whatever,” he said. “There are ways of being able to catch people. They’re not vigilant enough, nowhere near.
“It should be something they [authorities and social media sites] are doing hand in hand. But how much do they care deep down?”
The FA spoke out after Chelsea threw their weight behind calls for social media companies to step up efforts to tackle internet trolls after James revealed he had been targeted on Friday evening.
A statement issued via their Twitter account said: “This club finds racism and all forms of discriminatory behaviour completely unacceptable. We totally condemn it. In sport, as in wider society, we must create a social media environment where hateful and discriminatory actions are as unacceptable online as they would be on the street.”
James addressed the issue again in an Instagram post on Saturday. He wrote: “We all have a part to play in making this world a better and more equal place. Racism is completely unacceptable. Human is our only race. Instagram you must do more.”
His Chelsea teammates Thiago Silva and César Azpilicueta were among those to tweet in support of James. Speaking on Friday about the earlier incidents, the Premier League chief executive, Richard Masters, said: “Tackling online hate is a priority for football, and I believe social media companies need to do more.”
Relating to the abuse of Sawyers, West Midlands police said a 49-year-old man from Kingswinford was questioned on Friday evening. The force’s football hate crime officer is also investigating reports of another racist comment towards the player.