England players meet police over racist abuse concerns

 England's Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho

Police officers have briefed England’s players on the threat of online racism during Euro 2024, reassuring them they will “take seriously” any abuse during the tournament.

Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho were targeted after missing penalties in the team’s defeat at Wembley in the final of the last championship in 2021.

But the national lead for football policing in England and Wales says it has now become easier to prosecute offenders because social media companies have become more co-operative.

“We’ve explained [to the players] that we are there to support them,” said chief constable Mark Roberts, who said his officers briefed the squad at England's St George’s Park training base in March.

“We’ve given them some advice on how they can protect themselves with setting up their own accounts to try and prevent it happening, and to reassure them that we are there.

“If people do engage in this behaviour we will deal with it and, where possible, we will prosecute.”

Roberts’ warning comes as the authorities prepare to send the biggest deployment of British police officers to an overseas tournament for more than a decade, with hundreds of thousands of fans set to travel next month.

“It’s really depressing when you see some of the abuse meted out to our black players in particular - so we’ve done a lot of work with the social media companies,” said Roberts.

“We were at a stage when it was taking upwards of six months for them to give us the details we need. It’s a lot more positive now and we get good support from them. That can be turned round in days, which means we can prosecute people.”

“Where someone is in this country, if they think they can do that and remain anonymous, they can’t - we will find them. And I’d ask them, when they’re thinking about typing something, throw it forward six months, when you’re going up the steps to court… you maybe lose your job or are thrown out of university. It’s really not worth it for a moment of stupidity.”

Roberts says he expects more than 300,000 UK fans to travel to Germany.

“The most recent tournaments - the World Cups in Qatar and Russia - there were challenges about getting there, both financially and logistically, so this is the first one that’s been really accessible since France [in 2016]”, he said.

He warned fans who caused offence, or broke public order laws with inappropriate chants, that they could face arrest or fines.

“The Germans are fairly even-handed about it - there is a limit though.”

Last month security was increased at Champions League matches after a media outlet supporting the Islamic State group published threats against venues. But despite security fears, Roberts says he has faith in the hosts.

“The Germans are really well-organised. There’s always concerns going into the tournament. It’s impossible to rule out every contingency, but if you wanted a host that’s got a grip of it, then you wouldn’t look much further than Germany.”

Roberts was also asked if he feared England fans could be targeted, and how concerned he was generally by the prospect of hooliganism - with European club competitions marred by instances of violence and disorder this season.

“There’s always a concern,” he said. “We saw that in 2016 with the issues with the Russian supporters. We’re going to stay alive to that. We know there’s been issues in the European competitions this year. We generally see a difference in behaviour [with] the national teams… so we can’t make that prejudgment based on club behaviour.”