Reading some of the British papers this week about the social media abuse of the three black British footballers who missed penalties in the Euro final shoot-out that led to England’s defeat, one might get the impression that Britain is a country filled with racists and bigots.
That is certainly the theme of a report by the Runnymede Trust that has been sent to the United Nations, claiming that Britain is guilty of “systemic” racism and that its institutions, laws, practices and customs are “fundamentally racist.”
The abuse of England’s black players was, of course, appalling, but it was more than balanced by the outpouring of horror and distaste by the vast majority of people who rallied to their support and showed their pride in the team and its achievements.
A black writer wrote in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph that, while there were admittedly racist incidents in the country, of which the writer had suffered: “Britain is one of the most tolerant, inclusive and welcoming places in the whole world.”
That is not the picture that the BBC and the Guardian, among others, including the Runnymede Trust, want to project. But it was substantially the picture produced by the biggest survey of race in Britain that was published earlier this year by an independent report set up by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
This report, chaired by Dr Tony Sewell, himself born in Brixton and the son of Jamaican immigrants and consisting of a majority of ethnic members, showed how many improvements have been made in the lives of black British people over the past 50 years and identified areas that held black people back that were nothing to do with racism.
It also made a series of recommendations to improve the situation of black people in many areas of life. One conclusion was that “Britain is doing much better on race than on class.”
It worries me that the American Black Lives Matter campaign has been absorbed into British racial politics when the racial situations in the two countries are vastly different. The US has 42 million blacks,12.5 % of the country’s whole population. The figure for Britain is 1.9 million and 3 per cent.
On violence, 105 blacks have died in Britain in the past 20 years as a result of race-motivated attacks. In America over 7,000 black people are murdered every year.
Taking the knee began as homage for the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police in Minneapolis in May last year.
The policemen have now been prosecuted. But the practice might be se seen to endorse the larger and more violent ambitions of the BLM campaign, one of which is to defund police forces.
I can’t believe that a footballer who takes the knee realises that. I have some sympathy with the reason given by Billy Vunipola, the rugby player, for refusing to do it: “I bow my knee only to God and my mother.” In my case, however, it would be my wife and my bank manager.
England should be proud
England should not be ashamed of their failure to win the European championship. It came down mostly to luck at the end, though the choice of penalty takers seemed strange. Despite this, Gareth Southgate advanced his claim to continue managing the team until the next World Cup. One final and one semi-final in two major championships is a record to be proud of.
He has been accused of being too cautious and I have sometimes felt that myself. But being cautious is the proven way to win tournaments of this kind. Once England had a lead against Italy, they should perhaps have played the way top teams play in the Champions League: they bolster their defence and restrict their attacking to breakaways.
England have a good team with several young players pressing hard for inclusion, which is a healthy state to be in. They have a strong defence, a solid midfield and some world-class forwards. What they seem to me to lack is a mid-field general, a great distributor like Modic or Pirlo. These players cannot be created: they emerge only once in a generation.
Lions face Springbok mauling
Defeat by South Africa’s “A” team might be called a wake-up call for the British and Irish Lions, who have faced weak opposition until now. The shock of being physically beaten by a team that included 11 of their World Cup-winning squad has made victory in the Test series, starting in just over a week’s time, much less likely than it seemed a few days ago.
Warren Gatland has not had the luxury of previous tour coaches, including himself, of working out his best team through the so-called warm-up matches. There were so few games this time, such poor opposition, changes forced by Covid and injuries, that he has been picking his teams by a process of hand-to-mouth, feeling obliged to give every player a start even if they are only remote contenders for the Test XV.
He has one match left, against a reinforced Stormers team tomorrow, in which to try out what he sees as his probable Test team. Even that may not be possible if Liam Williams and Dan Biggar are injured, and maybe others. He may be forced into using Stuart Hogg at full-back and Marcus Smith at fly-half. The form of the stand-in captain, Conor Murray, is a concern, with the Scotsman Ali Price, the third string, looking more lively.
There is an embarrassment of talent on the wings with Josh Adams, with eight tries on the tour so far, contending with the burly Duhan van der Merwe, assuming that Anthony Watson is fit to play on the right wing.
The centre positions are still unclear. If Robbie Henshaw is fit, he should play, probably with Chris Harris rather than Bundi Ake. If Henshaw isn’t available, Gatland might risk Elliott Daly, who has been playing well, at outside centre. But if Biggar is fit to play at fly-half, Farrell becomes a contender for inside centre.
The front row seems likely to be Rory Sutherland, Jamie George and Tadhg Furlong. Maro Itoje seems certain for the second row, with Iain Henderson or a returning Alan Pryce Jones. In the back row Gatland must choose between Tadhg Bierne and Courtney Lawes at number six, Tom Curry and Hamish Watson at seven and Taulupe Faletau and Jack Conan at number eight.
That amounts to a great deal of uncertainty with only eight days to go before kick-off in the first Test.