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'It's appalling... It’s sad we even have to have this conversation in 2021'

Lions lock Maro Itoje called for action over the racist abuse aimed at English footballers.

Lions lock Maro Itoje.
Lions lock Maro Itoje.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ENGLAND AND LIONS second row Maro Itoje has called for action to be taken over the racist abuse directed at England footballers Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka in the wake of last night’s Euro 2020 final.

The English trio have been subjected to vile racist abuse on social media following Italy’s victory at Wembley.

Itoje also shared his dismay at the behaviour of some England fans before the final, having watched footage of a group of supporters forcing their way into the stadium without tickets.

“It’s appalling, to be honest, it’s appalling,” said Itoje in South Africa today.

“I think, quite frankly, the behavior 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 behavior 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 behavior 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.”

italy-v-england-uefa-euro-2020-final-wembley-stadium England's Bukayo Saka after his penalty miss. Source: PA

Itoje said he is proud of the achievements of this diverse England football team under manager Gareth Southgate.

“Their performances from the start of the tournament to the end – they grew and grew and grew,” said Itoje.

“Football, and the England football team especially, has a 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, 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 flick of a coin but we’re incredibly proud of them, incredibly proud of the boys that stepped up to take those penalties.

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

Itoje took to Twitter last night to offer his support to 19-year-old Saka, whose penalty was saved in England’s shootout against the Italians.

The Saracens second row said that he knew Saka would be the victim of abuse.

maro-itoje Itoje at Lions training in South Africa today. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

“I’m an Arsenal fan and I’ve seen Saka’s rise to prominence especially over the course of this season,” said Itoje. “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.”

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