Lions lock Maro Itoje condemns racist abuse of England footballers

‘The England football team inspired the nation and inspired people all across the globe’

Maro Itoje has condemned the racist abuse which the English footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka received after England's Euro 2020 final defeat by Italy on penalties at Wembley on Sunday night.

The articulate 26-year-old Londoner, who has been a measured spokesperson against racism and inequality, is also a football fan and like many immediately sensed some of the sadly inevitable response after the aforementioned trio’s missed penalties in Sunday’s shootout.

“Yeah, it’s appalling to be honest, it’s appalling. I think, quite frankly, the behaviour of a fraction of the fans throughout the day wasn’t very good from what I was picking up over here in South Africa, through people storming the stadium.

“The behaviour before the game wasn’t great and it only got worse after the game. I was speaking to one of my friends and I actually said the behaviour before the game wasn’t good but if England lose this game it’s going to get worse and it’s a shame that a fraction of fans literally spoil the occasion for everybody else.


“There’s a large proportion of fans that went to Wembley, who bought their ticket, who are great football fans and did their piece. But they were ruined by a large amount of people who were racially abusing some of the black players, those brave individuals who stood up to take those penalties.

“It’s just incredibly sad to hear, sad to see; it’s sad that we even have to have this conversation in 2021 and this is a large amount of the reason why so much talk is about racism in sport because these incidents happen on a semi-regular basis, which is not what anyone wants to see, it’s not what anyone wants to hear and it’s become clichéd to say this but we need to do more.

“We need to do more to tackle it, we need to do more to get these types of people out of the stadium. We need to do more to tackle this type of football culture that ruins it for a large amount of people. The England football team inspired the nation and inspired people all across the globe. I had people in Nigeria singing, ‘It’s Coming Home!’

“They inspired so many people, so for that to be tarnished by some of the behaviour and the abuse that we’ve seen is very disappointing.”

Itoje also sent a direct tweet to Saka.

“I’m an Arsenal fan and I’ve seen Saka’s rise to prominence especially over the course of this season. He’s a phenomenal player and watching him represent England I know will be pretty special for him and for everyone who knows him closely.

“When he missed a penalty and I saw his reaction thereafter I just felt so, so sad for him. He’s a young man. He’s 19-years-old. He’s going to play for England for many, many years to come. He’s a great player. I just think as sports fans, as football fans, as people he’s the type of person that we need to support.

“Truly and honestly as soon as he missed I knew what was coming. I knew there was going to be an outrage on social media. As athletes it’s not nice but you can take heat when it’s about your performance but when it’s about things that are personal, when it’s about something like race - things that are completely out of your control - I just think that is unacceptable.

“I’m sending loads of support and love to Bukayo Saka.”

Reflecting on England’s performance in the Euro 2020 tournament overall, Itoje said: “Well, obviously I’m incredibly proud of the England football team. Their performances from the start of the tournament to the end - they grew and grew and grew - and football, and the England football team especially has remarkable ability to bring the country together, bring different people from different walks of life together.

“Nelson Mandela famously said that sport has the power to change people’s lives, that sport has the power to unite people, and I think the England team, they are the essence of that.

“Obviously we were incredibly disappointed and sad for the team that they weren’t able to do it. It came down to penalties and sometimes penalties can be the flip of a coin but incredibly proud of them, incredibly proud of the boys that stepped up to take those penalties.

“I think the men in the arena deserve the credit and my best wishes are to those guys in particular.”

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times