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Euros 2024: Who's the beautiful game for?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, the UEFA’s Euro Championship League has been underway, the finals taking place this Sunday. So far, we’ve seen all Brits – including those with hyphenated identities– support England as we prepare to ‘bring it home’. 

What’s notable is seeing the changes in attitudes towards the footballers, more specifically Black players, who’ve been putting away the penalties. If we take a flashback to four years ago, a wave of racist social media abuse was aimed at Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka after they missed penalties in the shoot-out at the Euro 2020 final. Oh, how quickly the switch can flip.

Football itself can be a form of progressive patriotism – a form of social cohesion, even, meant to bring people together from all walks of life. However, in recent years we’ve seen how divisive this game can be, and how it reinforces the othering of different social groups. 

So who is the game really for? 

The geezers in the stands

When you turn on a match, it’s not surprising to see that the majority of fans in the seats are White. However, speaking from personal experience growing up in a “Gunner” household – and a grandfather who watched every match faithfully, I’ve learnt first-hand that marginalised groups are just as much die-hard fans as the majority. The difference is – we’re not always “allowed” or “welcomed” in these spaces. 

In 2024, some ethnic minority England fans at Euro 2024 still feel unsafe and excluded from travelling to watch the tournament like the White majority. As one fan said, ‘I’d only ever go to a tournament when I knew England were already out’.

For supporters like Nilesh Chauhan – the campaign organiser for Fans for Diversity, to make all football fans feel welcome, heading to Germany to catch England vs Serbia was great overall except for a few incidents. What stood out to me the most was the level of apprehension when approached by an England fan, does this anxiety not point to a history of exclusion?

If we have a look at this TikTok — aside from the humour — the message is still shocking in 2024. That being if you’re a person of colour, depending on the results of the match, going to the pub could be a hit or miss: 

So when we think about the beautiful game as a pathway to social cohesion in the UK, pub culture and celebrations are largely exclusive.

A team full of migrants?

Now, when you look at England's team, the over-representation of Black players could evidence our ex- Prime Minister’s theory of Britain having ‘fantastic multicultural democracy’. On the surface, 43% of Black players active in the Premier League, looks great…  Until it isn’t. 

Because it is a positive tournament at the moment — for results — the fans are behind the team. At crucial moments, they will show their support. But I do feel there are many out there waiting for a positive moment, waiting for an English player to miss a penalty. So they can go back to their social platforms with that whole negativity around the players who were taking the penalty. We have seen white English players miss penalties before, but they are never targeted or described by the colour of their skin. That is what makes it so unique against those black players who took the penalties on Saturday.

Now if we highlight this, we’re automatically called out for making this a ‘race thing’ but the hate comments and monkey chants speak for themselves. 

But what about the Lionesses?

While we’ve made significant strides of gender equality in sports, the beautiful game is still a male dominated sport. If we look at progress: 

Here are some statistics which speak more to this gender disparity: 

If we break this down even further, the under-representation of women of colour on the pitch adds another layer to the levels of exclusion, but that’s an article for another time.

What happens when it 'comes home'?

On a darker note, this progressive patriotism comes with a price. As statistics show, domestic violence, which disproportionately affects women, can peak during football tournaments due to an increase of alcohol consumption and other destructive behaviours exhibited by a small number of fans. 

  • 26% when our national team plays

  • 38% if they lose

  • 11% the day after, regardless of the outcome.

For some fans, it’s not as simple as ‘it’s not coming home’, as these emotional highs and lows fuel abusers to take out their aggression on the people closest to them.

Therefore, can the game be beautiful when the consequences seem to cause a lot more destruction than cohesion?

Finding the beauty 

If the beautiful game is going to be truly beautiful for everyone, the leagues and sporting organisations have a role to play in holding fans accountable. We can see organisations like Show Racism the Red Card and Kick It Out with campaigns like Fans for Diversity, doing the necessary work to embed inclusion into the sport. 

Given that football culture is still viewed as a primarily White, male space, there needs to be a systems change to embed inclusion into participating in the game as a fan and on the pitch. 

Football is a global game which brings together communities and cultures, uniting people of all backgrounds. The Premier League has welcomed players from 123 different nations since it started in 1992. So, if you are not a fan of this diversity, you are not a fan. That is why there is no room for racism. Anywhere.


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