Gareth Southgate insists his England players won’t just be focusing on football at Euro 2020.
The Three Lions are one of the bookmakers’ favourites to win a first ever European Championship this summer.
However, online abuse has marred football in recent years with England boss Southgate believing it has become easier to target players online with fans watching the games from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.
England stars such as Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Kyle Walker, Reece James, Tyrone Mings and Jude Bellingham were racially abused online during the 2020/21 season.
In an open letter to England fans in The Players’ Tribune, Southgate said: “This is a special group. Humble, proud and liberated in being their true selves.
“Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.
“I have never believed that we should just stick to football.
“I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.
“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.
“Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in so many ways. In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to the supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.
“That said, there are times when my parental instincts kick in. I can’t help it. After all, I’m old enough to be a father to most of my players!
“I see players scrolling on their phones straight after the final whistle and I think … Hmmm, is that a particularly good idea?
“Reading abusive comments on Twitter or Instagram is never going to help performance.
“There are genuine risks for our players online and I will always want to protect them, but I would never put rules on how or when they use their accounts while on England duty. I trust them and know they are mature enough to make their own decisions, to do what’s right for their mental health and to keep being a force for good as we strive for a better society.
“The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know.
“Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.
“Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive? Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin? Why?
“Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news.
“You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.
“It might not feel like it at times, but it’s true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone.
“I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking.
“For many of that younger generation, your notion of Englishness is quite different from my own. I understand that, too.
“I understand that on this island, we have a desire to protect our values and traditions — as we should — but that shouldn’t come at the expense of introspection and progress.
“Regardless of your upbringing and politics, what is clear is that we are an incredible nation — relative to our size and population — that has contributed so much to the arts, science and sport.
“We do have a special identity and that remains a powerful motivator.
“In a funny way, I see the same Englishness represented by the fans who protested against the Super League. We are independent thinkers. We speak out on the issues that matter to us and we are proud of that.”
Southgate insists it won’t just be football that is on the agenda at Euro 2020.
He said: “Of course, my players and I will be judged on winning matches. Only one team can win the Euros. We have never done it before and we are desperate to do it for the first time.
“Believe me. But, the reality is that the result is just a small part of it. When England play, there’s much more at stake than that.
“It’s about how we conduct ourselves on and off the pitch, how we bring people together, how we inspire and unite, how we create memories that last beyond the 90 minutes. That last beyond the summer. That last forever.
“I think about all the young kids who will be watching this summer, filling out their first wall charts.
“No matter what happens, I just hope that their parents, teachers and club managers will turn to them and say, “Look. That’s the way to represent your country. That’s what England is about. That is what’s possible.”
“If we can do that, it will be a summer to be proud of.”
talkSPORT and talkSPORT 2 will have live commentary of EVERY game of Euro 2020. You won’t miss a thing as we bring you round the clock coverage, reaction and analysis from June 11-July 11. Listen online HERE.
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