Boris Johnson says UK will ban online racists from football matches

Alex Morales
Bloomberg

Boris Johnson said the U.K. will ban perpetrators of online racist abuse from attending soccer matches, after Black players were targeted in the wake of England’s defeat to Italy in the European Championship final.

“I utterly condemn and abhor the racist outpourings that we saw on Sunday night,” the British prime minister told the House of Commons on Wednesday as he announced the plan to strengthen the soccer banning order regime. “If you are guilty of racist abuse online on football, then you will not be going to the match. No ifs, no buts, no exemptions and no excuses.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson waves at the media as he leaves 10 Downing Street to attend the weekly Prime Minister's Questions at the Houses of Parliament, in London, Wednesday, July 14, 2021.

Online abusers would face bans of up to 10 years under the plans, and the change will come into force as soon as practical, 10 Downing Street said in a statement.

Johnson also reiterated that social media companies face large fines in the government’s planned legislation if they don’t crack down on online abuse. He said he’d warned executives from Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram at a meeting on Tuesday.

“I made it absolutely clear to them that we will legislate to address this problem in the Online Harms Bill, and unless they get hate and racism off their platforms, they will face fines amounting to 10% of their global revenues,” he said. “We all know that they have the technology to do it.”

People place messages of support on top of bin liners that were taped over offensive wording on the mural of Manchester United striker and England player Marcus Rashford on the wall of the Coffee House Cafe on Copson Street, which appeared vandalised the morning after the England soccer team lost the Euro 2021 final against Italy, in Withington, Manchester, England, Monday,  July 12, 2021.

Johnson is trying to defuse a high-profile row after Tyrone Mings, a Black player in the England soccer team, accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of “stoking the fire” when she called the team’s policy of taking the knee to protest racism at the start of matches “gesture politics.”

The prime minister himself triggered a backlash ahead of the tournament when he didn’t condemn fans booing the players’ stance, though his spokesman later urged supporters to cheer and not boo.

“The government has been trying to stoke a culture war, and they’ve realized they’re on the wrong side, and now they hope that nobody has noticed,” opposition Labour Party Leader Keir Starmer said in the House of Commons Wednesday.

Johnson denied the charge, insisting his government is backing England’s players. “I don’t want to engage in a political culture war of any kind, I want to get on with delivering for the people of this country,” he said.