Inclusion ‘is at the top of football agenda’

Graeme le Saux Picture: DAVID FERGUSON

In yesterday’s Saturday Interview, the former Chelsea FC left back said that players now have an important ability to ‘stand tall and fight abuse’.

‘Sport is completely linked with politics because it represents a part of society that has a voice,’ Mr Le Saux said. ‘Every player has their own values and views and why shouldn’t they be talking about that? If they want to support a cause or a campaign, why shouldn’t they?’

JFA boss Dave Kennedy added that the organisation was ‘proud that football is such an inclusive sport in Jersey for all ages, genders and ethnicities’.

Mr Le Saux, who was born in Jersey and represented England on 36 occasions, said the fallout from last weekend’s European Championship final had shown that improvements still needed to be made in the game.

After England lost on penalties in the final to Italy, the three players – Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka – who did not score their spot kicks all received racial abuse on social media.

Fans abusing players was nothing new, Mr Le Saux said, adding that he had been the target of homophobic abuse during his career, despite not being gay.

Reflecting on the tournament, Mr Le Saux said: ‘There has been racial abuse as long as I can remember. It was never dealt with when I was playing. Those football players, and others in the spotlight, are on the frontline of this.

‘It is really complicated. The big improvement from a footballer’s perspective is there that is more support and greater punishment now.

‘Those found guilty of abuse will be banned for life. That is quite a big statement. There are also better reporting mechanisms. That gives the younger players the opportunity to stand tall and fight this abuse and know they get the support.’

The England side was also criticised by a small, but sizeable, number of fans for taking the knee before games – an anti-racism gesture which several other teams in the tournament also adopted.

Mr Le Saux added: ‘I think the great thing about this team is that there is a bond between them that has been made even stronger by the political criticism they have had. If I was in a dressing room, and one of my colleagues was suffering that high-profile derision, I would be doing even more to support them.

‘The taking-the-knee debate would have galvanised the players. They, and the coaching team, stood strong together. That was about what the gesture meant to them.’

Mr Kennedy said that young players were impacted by the behaviour they saw on the television, adding that the grassroots game had a role to play in opposing abusive behaviour.

‘Clubs and spectators are aware that there is no place in Jersey football for that behaviour. If anyone in football does demonstrate that behaviour, either on the pitch or on social media, then the case is elevated to the FA who will sanction the club,’ he said.

‘We are proud that football is such an inclusive sport in Jersey for all ages, genders and ethnicities.

‘It is important that Jersey football is representative of our Island demographic and inclusion is at the very top of our agenda. We will be ensuring that there is enough information through marketing campaigns and through meetings with our member clubs to inform them that discrimination at any level will not be tolerated.’

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