After Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham revealed that the members of the English national team had collectively decided to walk off the field if subjected to racism during their Euro 2020 qualifiers, the team’s manager has walked back that threat. Gareth Southgate said in a press conference on Thursday that England would actually stick to the UEFA protocol for combating fan racism, which is a three-step process that involves stopping the game twice before and then abandoning the match.
Here’s Southgate speaking on the issue:
There is the UEFA process and we have to have faith in that process. Then everything else is hypothetical.
We want the players to be able to concentrate on football, they want to be judged on football. What I’ve got to do is provide a secure, safe environment for them to play.
Southgate’s comments directly contradict Abraham’s. The striker’s statement, mere days before England play Bulgaria in a stadium that FIFA will make partially closed as punishment for earlier racism by Bulgarian fans, angered Bulgarian Football Union chief Borislav Mihaylov. In a letter to UEFA, Mihaylov called for FIFA to punish England if they did not follow UEFA’s protocol:
Please find attached references to articles in worldwide media platforms in which various players from the England national team openly discuss the possibilities of breaking the Uefa three-step procedure and all Uefa protocols and walking off the pitch in the case of discriminatory behaviour in the team’s upcoming European qualifiers against the Czech Republic and particularly against Bulgaria – an idea which, if executed, should be punishable according to the Uefa disciplinary regulations.
Southgate went on to echo Aston Villa defender Tyrone Mings’s stance that England has problems of its own with racism that it must address, saying “we don’t look at other countries in a way that we don’t shine a mirror on our own.”
It’s not a great look for a manager to stand in opposition to the unified will of his team on a matter so clearly important to them, but then again it might not matter anyway. The ultimate decision of whether to stay on or walk off the pitch belongs to the players themselves. Hopefully it won’t come to that.