But Alan says he was primed for what would unfold.
Alan Bush outside Wembley Stadium in London.
“So I’m sat there watching the game. I’m watching the penalty shoot-out. I watched the second black player miss a penalty. And my first thing I do is pick up my phone and I started to look for racist abuse,” he says.
And on this occasion, the abuse came thick and fast. The three black players who missed their penalties were subjected to a tidal wave of social media attacks from within the UK and around the world. Analysis by the Hate Lab found upwards of 380 hate speech posts per hour at its peak.
I watched the second black player miss a penalty. And my first thing I do is pick up my phone and I started to look for racist abuse.
The FIFA report showed similar levels of online racial abuse before, during and after this year’s Africa Cup of Nations final, too, played between Egypt and Senegal. As in England, the majority of abusers were from the players’ home nations.
Former star talks about his experience
From 1997 to 2013, Saha played for some of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Everton, Tottenham and Lazio. He also played 20 times for the French national team.
Louis Saha near Nice, France.
“So England, especially going to the final, those three black players miss their penalties. It was an easy target for racists, people who are not even supporters. Some of them are just super aggressive attention grabbers,” Saha told Dateline.
In 2012, towards the end of his career, Saha faced similar abuse online. He was attacked in a racist, expletive-laden Twitter post, which shocks him to this day.
The tweet attacking Louis Saha.
“I did react like many other players, calmly, because you can’t have any kind of solution that will be drastic,” Saha says. “I needed to address it in a very sensible way to make them realise that it’s not something to do. Whatever is online is not a game. It is not funny.
“I thought it was more about him having a problem, having weaknesses. I was experienced enough to see it this way.”
Louis Saha speaking to Dateline.
Saha says the reaction from clubs and the football establishment at the time was muted and whilst progress has been made over the last decade in England, much work remains across Europe.
“You need strong support from institutions, from clubs, from towns, from the government in so many ways. Those guys who are deciding who can make the change are hiding. They’re hiding because it’s costing them money. They’re hiding because it’s taking time, it’s taking change of legislation,” he says. “So many other countries in Europe are not addressing it.”
What’s the situation like at matches?
And while overall reports of discrimination in and around the professional game for the 2021-22 season are slightly down compared with two seasons ago, there were still 380 complaints of discrimination made over the most recent season, with reports of racism accounting for roughly half of those claims.
“Historically, I think football as a whole has had a hooliganism problem and a racist problem where BAME fans didn’t think it was a safe environment to be going to the match. So for example, my parents, they came to England in the 1960s from Pakistan and they’ve never really been comfortable to go to football games because of the stigma around it.”
Ifshaan Mahmoud (centre) watching a Middlesbrough FC game with friends.
“Today, you come to a match and you think, can I really express myself? If I do express myself, will I experience any form of hate?” Ifshaan says. “You’re on edge.”
“One of the aims of Boro Fusion is to obviously break down barriers, tackle the racism problem, and get more of the BAME community feeling like the stadium is a safe environment for themselves.”
Fears of abuse happening again at World Cup
World football’s governing body FIFA will use an in-tournament moderation service to detect and block online abuse aimed at players – technology, FIFA bosses say, which can scan recognised hate-speech terms and prevent offending messages from being seen by the intended recipient and their followers.
I think football as a whole has had a hooliganism problem and a racist problem where BAME fans didn’t think it was a safe environment to be going to the match.
And later this year, the UK parliament is expected to complete the much-anticipated Online Safety Bill, which aims to place a greater duty of care on tech companies to tackle abuse on their platforms.
A section of the crowd at a Middlesbrough home match.
Still, with Qatar on the horizon, Alan Bush fears a potential repeat of the same hateful barrage witnessed after the Euro final.
“And I think that the more we do that work, the more we change attitudes, the more we change opinions, the more that there are prosecutions, people going to prison for racist abuse of footballers. The more that that happens, the more football authorities take it seriously.”
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