Despite, or perhaps due to, FIFA’s ongoing and futile efforts to curb racism in soccer, England’s national team has decided to walk off the field during its upcoming Euro 2020 qualifying matches if they face racist abuse from opposing fans. That’s according to Chelsea striker Tammy Abraham, who said on Tuesday that the team will employ a one-strike policy and leave the field, should they be subjected to offensive chanting during their upcoming match against Bulgaria.
Bulgarian fans have already been punished by UEFA—European soccer’s confederation—with a partial stadium ban for their two qualifiers this international break, after subjecting the national teams of the Czech Republic and Kosovo to racist chants back in June, so Abraham’s statement is not unwarranted. As for not following the three-strike protocol already in place by FIFA and UEFA, he basically blew it off, saying that, for him, “it’s just one strike because it gives people excuses.”
According to Abrahmam, it was Tottenham’s Harry Kane—who currently serves as England captain—that broached the idea of walking off the field:
Harry Kane even said that if it happens and we’re not happy with it, we all come off the pitch together. It’s a team thing. Don’t isolate one person. Harry did ask the question about instead of going through the three steps – if we decide that we want to stop the game, no matter what the score is – if we’re not happy as a team we’ll decide whether or not to stay on the pitch.
As for the results on the field, Abraham basically said it was someone else’s problem, not theirs:
We’d just let the FA or whoever deal with whatever’s next – the scores or what happens with the points. At the time, it’s about making sure we’re a team, we don’t stand for it and we want the world to see that we don’t stand for the silly abuse.
Racist fan behavior has been widespread in soccer for decades, but it’s been particularly present so far this season. One English player, Villa defender Tyrone Mings, referenced the problem in England, saying that while the threat to walk off the field is a good step, eradicating racism from soccer is a much longer process:
It highlights the fact that our own country isn’t perfect. The fact that we talk about it [racism] in foreign countries, in other European countries that aren’t necessarily as diverse is one thing, but there are issues going on in this country [England] as well, which is far from ideal. Both are issues that people should never get bored of talking about. If they are happening they have to be brought to light by people who have a voice like us. We have to address it, we have to get it right somehow.
England faces Bulgaria on Monday evening, so there won’t be a long wait to see if the team will follow through with their threat, should they face racism by the home fans. Given how public England has made their stance, it’s a safe bet that confrontational fans will be more than willing to oblige them and force the issue.