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England star Tyrone Mings is right to call out Priti Patel’s blatant hypocrisy

With one tweet, Mings captured the spirit of a nation divided – a nation rocked by an ugly 24 hours in which a subset of fans watching the Euros 2020 final let us all down. But we’d been let down long before that

Victoria Richards
Tuesday 13 July 2021 09:34 BST
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‘Priti Patel said she was “disgusted” that England players who have given so much for our country have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media’
‘Priti Patel said she was “disgusted” that England players who have given so much for our country have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media’ (Home Secretary)

“You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”

So said England footballer Tyrone Mings in a pointed nod to Priti Patel’s attempt to gain favour with football fans – the home secretary tweeted that she was “disgusted” that England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media. “It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable,” she added – and the nation spat out their post-match Bloody Marys.

Because Mings is right, and with just one simple tweet he has captured the spirit of a nation divided – a nation rocked by an ugly 24 hours in which a subset of fans watching the Euro 2020 final let us all down. But we’d been let down long before that.

We were let down the moment that Priti Patel refused to condemn the same nasty subset of supporters for booing players for taking the knee, saying, “that’s a choice for them quite frankly”, and dismissing the anti-racism protest associated with the Black Lives Matter movement as “gesture politics”. She also claimed Black Lives Matter protests had had a “devastating” impact in the UK.

She may have dodged the question as to whether she would boo them herself, saying, “I’ve not gone to a football match to even contemplate that”, but in presenting booing players as a “reasonable” option, as a “choice”, she validated racism in the stands. She may just as well have put her hands around her mouth and heckled with the rest of them.

And maybe she did heckle and boo – who knows what she got up to behind closed doors when England strode out to meet Italy on Sunday night? Nothing would surprise me: not when we have a prime minister known for making overtly racist jokes, who once described Muslim women as looking like “bank robbers and letterboxes”; and not when we have sports players in their twenties – Mings is 28; Rashford, who wrote this powerful message of reflection and said he will “never apologise for who I am and where I came from”, just 23 – doing more to call out the government for its shameful, blatant hypocrisy than the leader of the opposition.

Keir Starmer has said the racist abuse the players have suffered is “appalling” and “should be condemned in the strongest possible terms” – but those terms are being most succinctly and powerfully put by the players themselves. They are winning this, leading us – and doing far more to call out those in power than the political elite.

They’re also leading by example and showing us what being “British” should really be about – Rashford personally prompted Boris Johnson’s U-turn on extending free school meals, and in doing so contributed to feeding more than a million vulnerable children. He’s also helped the homeless, boosted children’s literacy and campaigned to keep the £20 uplift to Universal Credit.

Those who defaced a mural of the striker in Manchester must have been paying too much attention to Patel, who (in comparison) has shown us that her Britain is one of harsher sentences for migrants; of making it more difficult for people in desperate need of asylum to come to the UK; of bullying her staff – and of allowing racists to boo our national sporting heroes for standing up to racism.

So don’t condemn Mings for telling it like it is: that if you validate division and hatred, that’s exactly what you get. Instead, pour shame rightfully on Johnson and Patel – because the only “gesture politics” around here is in their lacklustre show of surprise.

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