England captain Steven Gerrard admitted he would consider staging a dramatic mid-game boycott of Euro 2012 if any of his players suffer racist abuse.
Gerrard and his team have been urged to show no tolerance of discriminatory behavior during the tournament, with both host nations (Poland and Ukraine) blighted by reports of severe racism in soccer.
The problem is a concern to England, as it contains eight black players among its 23-man squad, and the families of several stars stayed home due to reports of racially motivated incidents in the host countries.
England takes on France in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday night in its first Group D match and while Gerrard would prefer to focus on its play, he revealed the team had discussed how to combat any racist behavior on the field.
"We have talked about it," Gerrard said, when asked if he would consider walking out of a game. "And if anything like that does take place the first thing we would do would be to stop and talk to the referee straight away."
Gerrard's comments came in response to strong words from leading figures, both in sports and politics, urging the squad to make a powerful statement that such antics would not be accepted.
"Players should not just keep quiet and play on like in my day," said Ruud Gullit, the legendary Dutch midfielder who won the Euros in 1988 and spent half a season as coach of the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2008. "If a player is racially insulted, he should have the right to leave the field."
That right appeared to be called into question in the days leading up to the tournament, when Michel Platini, president of European governing body UEFA, claimed that the correct response to any player leaving the field after being abused would be for the referee to issue them with a yellow card.
Platini has since backtracked and UEFA has attempted to take a stronger stance on racism, saving itself from another wave of international criticism.
Meanwhile, senior British politician Douglas Alexander urged Gerrard and his colleagues to not be afraid to take the step of halting a match, regardless of what Platini said. "If … the England players felt justified in walking off, they should be supported," Alexander wrote in the Daily Mail.
It is feared, however, that the most likely instance of racism could occur in the final group game between England and Ukraine, one that may well decide who advances from Group D to the knockout stage.
England players have been warned to prepare themselves for the worst and the English Football Association sent an additional team of security experts to safeguard the squad.
"When you come to countries where there are certain issues, you have to be ready for it," said England coach Roy Hodgson. "Unfortunate as it may be, we will be ready."
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