‘When you win, you’re English; when you lose, you’re Black’. Sad but true, not just for Britain



“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”
– George Orwell

So, Italy and England faced off for the Euro Cup and England lost, a sad and difficult moment that many British people dismissed in a predictably understated way: “Used to disappointment!”

Equally predictably, many others responded by hurling abuse at the three young black members of the England team — Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka — who missed penalties. England’s 3-2 shootout loss closed an unexpected winning streak for the team, which reached its first final in a major tournament since its 1966 World Cup win.

And in yet another predictable response, the following comment bitterly did the rounds on social media: “When you win, you’re English; when you lose, you’re Black.”

British prime minister Boris Johnson rebuked those responsible for what he called, the “appalling racial abuse”; the Football Association also said it was “appalled (by the) online racism”; England team manager Gareth Southgate described it as “unforgivable” and European football’s governing body Uefa found it “disgusting”.

All that I’ve recounted so far may be ugly, but it’s not particularly unusual or unique to Britain. I don’t know much about sport but it strikes me that it can unleash passions of an ungovernable nature. There was that Colombian player who was killed after the 1994 Fifa World Cup, reportedly in retaliation for having scored an own goal and hastened the team’s elimination from the tournament. And when France won the World Cup for the first time in its history in 1998, beating Brazil 3-0 in the final at the Stade de France, the so-called “Rainbow Team” became national heroes. But defeat could quite easily have meant the reverse.

The France team’s coach, Aime Jacquet, had selected a multicultural squad — the footballers’ ethnic origins were diverse, including North Africa, West Africa, the Caribbean, the Pacific islands, Armenia and the Basque country. (The players recalled to mind some of the following countries’ history with France: Senegal, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Algeria and New Caledonia, a French overseas territory 1,200 kilometers off the coast of Australia.) Midfielder Zinedine Zidane, who scored two goals in the final, became the poster boy of French-Algerian post-colonial harmony despite the painful passages that mar those countries’ relationship. The player was born in France to Algerian parents, who had emigrated in the 1950s.

But, and here’s the point, had France lost that game, would the “Rainbow Team” have been roundly abused and the multicultural players berated?

Probably. It’s a sad but true commentary on human nature.