Gareth Southgate has praised the “incredible maturity” of his players after Raheem Sterling and Jude Bellingham were racially abused during the 4-0 World Cup qualifying win against Hungary.
Monkey chants were directed at the pair from Hungary supporters during the game and the England team were booed and jeered while they took a knee before kick-off in Budapest on Thursday night.
Cups and a flare were also thrown at Southgate’s players at the Puskas Arena and FIFA has opened disciplinary proceedings into the incidents.
Prior to the Hungary clash, their Euro 2020 final defeat to Italy at Wembley was England’s last encounter, when Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho, and Bukayo Saka were sent racist abuse online after they missed their spot-kicks in the penalty shootout.
Addressing the topic of discrimination towards his players once again, Southgate said: “Unfortunately, I don’t know how many camps we’ve had in the last four years but I seem to have been talking about this subject every time the team has been together.
“I can only reiterate that the players are incredibly mature in the way that they deal with it.
“I think they feel supported by their team-mates which is very important to them and their team-mates must recognise how challenging it can be for our Black players and how disappointing it is that in the modern world we continue to have to answer these questions because of the incidents that happen.”
Sterling and Bellingham, who have both been targets of racial discrimination in the past, posted defiant messages on their social media accounts in the wake of events at the Puskas Arena.
Bellingham, 18, tweeted: “Part of the game and always will be until proper punishments are put in place by those with the power. We can’t let hate win, keep smiling!”
Southgate said his squad members will continue to demonstrate their desire to affect change and promote equality in society, as well as in sport, but the England boss also believes his players want their performances to be the first topic of conversation ahead of racism.
He added: “We can only continue taking the stance that we have done and hope that we continue to send the right messages not only to people in football but across society and that everybody keeps progressing.
“We know that it’s going to take time and that it feels very slow for everybody but we have to keep fighting that battle.
“We’re better prepared for it now unfortunately because we’ve had to be. So we’ve learned a lot from the experiences of the past and most importantly in our minds is to be there to support our players.
“There’s also a balance there that the lads want to get on with their football, and as much as it’s important that we talk about these things publicly, they don’t want that to be the uppermost conversation they want their performances on the pitch to be recognised.
“When they played as well as they did the other night they want to be talking about that, they recognise their wider responsibilities and at the right moments they want to affect those things but when they’re playing, they want to be judged on their playing.”
More to follow…