Gareth Southgate believes his England squad can have an impact on society and says they should never “just stick to football”.
The Three Lions were booed by supporters when they took a knee at kick-off at the Riverside Stadium in their two Euro 2020 warm-up matches, with Southgate describing the jeers as a “criticism” of the squad’s black players and implored supporters to get behind the display of solidarity. Boris Johnson’s spokesperson said the prime minister supported the players’ right to protest on Monday but also stopped short of criticising those who had booed.
Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson and several other senior members of the England squad have been driving forces behind positive societal changes during the pandemic and, in a letter for The Players’ Tribune, Southgate reiterated that their influence has a power far beyond sport itself.
“This is a special group. Humble, proud and liberated in being their true selves,” he wrote. “Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people. I have never believed that we should just stick to football.”
Southgate also condemned the rising instances of online abuse seen during the pandemic and urged supporters to get behind the England team in a positive way at this summer’s European Championships.
“The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know,” he wrote. “Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.
“Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive? Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin? Why?
“Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.”
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