Social media boycott as footballers in England say ‘enough’ over racism

England forward Raheem Sterling was the target of racist abuse when he played against Montenegro last month. (AFP pic)

LONDON: Premier League stars led footballers in England and Wales in a 24-hour social media boycott on Friday in a bid to combat racist abuse online.

Watford striker Troy Deeney – who blocked replies to his Instagram account earlier this month after receiving abuse – summed up the anger he and fellow footballers feel, saying: “Enough is enough.”

The campaign, which is being coordinated by England’s Professional Footballers’ Association, urges players to stay off all social media from 9am (0800 GMT) Friday.

The universal message across the footballers’ Twitter accounts used the hashtag #Enough with the message “MAKE A STAND AGAINST RACISM – A campaign by the PFA”.

The PFA said the boycott was the “first step in a longer campaign to tackle racism in football”.

The boycott is not just aimed at those who use the platforms to air their racist views but also at the social media companies themselves and football authorities.

There have been growing concerns over how football should tackle racism following a number of incidents of abuse both at grounds and on social media.

England’s black players faced repeated racist chants during their Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro last month.

One of those targeted, full-back Danny Rose, said afterwards he could not wait to turn his “back on football”.

Some like Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp – whose star player Mohamed Salah was the target of Islamophobic abuse by Chelsea fans last week – has said he would have no hesitation in taking his players off the pitch.

“If it’s the whole stand, then I would do it 100%,” Klopp said after the Montenegro incidents.

“But that’s too much power for one or two idiots or three or four idiots. But if the whole stand would do it then it is completely different.”

‘Protecting mental health’ 

For the moment though the likes of prolific tweeter Raheem Sterling – who has been subject to abuse from Chelsea fans and then in Montenegro this season – and Harry Kane will have to resist the urge to tweet or post on Instagram.

Liverpool’s England defender Trent Alexander-Arnold was among those who posted the PFA message on his Instagram account on Friday morning.

“We are making a stand against racist abuse,” said a message on his account.

“We recognise that our platforms come with responsibility, and so we are using our voice to stand against racist abuse.

“Together, we are calling on social media platforms and footballing bodies to do more!”

Manchester United’s central defender Chris Smalling – whose teammate Ashley Young was the victim of racist abuse after a mistake during the Champions League defeat to Barcelona on Tuesday – echoed these sentiments, warning harmful and hate-filled posts can have a debilitating impact on those targeted.

“Throughout my career I have developed a thick skin against verbal abuse, justifying it as just ‘part of the game’ but the time has come for Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to consider regulating their channels, taking responsibility for protecting the mental health of users regardless of age, race, sex or income,” Smalling said.

Twitter has defended itself, saying it is “suspending three times more abusive accounts within 24 hours after receiving a report than this time last year”.

A Facebook spokesperson told Press Association Sport they had made progress in developing tools that users can deploy to moderate and filter content on their pages by hiding or deleting comments.

“We will remove hate speech or credible threats of any kind, and we encourage anyone who sees content they find offensive to report it so we can remove anything that breaks our Community Standards,” the spokesperson said.

Instagram too said they would act as soon as anyone reported anything relating to offensive posts.

“We encourage anyone who sees content they find offensive to report it in-app and we work quickly to remove anything that breaks our guidelines.”