Gareth Southgate: England manager says players have 'duty' to interact with fans on issues such as racial injustice

England players have said they will continue to take a knee before matches to highlight racial injustice despite being booed for the gesture by home fans in two warm-up games; England begin Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia on Sunday at Wembley

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) takes a knee (AP)
Image: England manager Gareth Southgate (left) says he wants his players to have the confidence to stand up for each other

England manager Gareth Southgate says his players should not "stick to football" and have a "duty" to interact with the public on issues such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice.

Southgate and his squad have confirmed they will continue to take a knee before matches throughout Euro 2020 as they aim to highlight racial injustice, despite a section of home fans having booed the gesture before two warm-up matches in Middlesbrough last week.

Writing an open letter to the nation in The Players' Tribune on Tuesday, Southgate questioned the racial abuse several England players have faced on social media and urged fans to understand where they are coming from.

He wrote: "Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society. We must give them the confidence to stand up for their team-mates and the things that matter to them as people.

Gareth Southgate (PA) 0:34
Southgate says his England squad will continue to show their unity and take a knee during the Euros despite boos in their last two international friendlies

"I have never believed that we should just stick to football. I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I'm below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men's football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.

"It's their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate."

England players take a knee prior to kick-off against Romania (PA)
Image: England's players faced boos from home supporters as they took a knee during their warm-up games

Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford, who was awarded an MBE for his work fighting child food poverty, has been racially abused repeatedly on social media, while several of his international teammates were subjected to similar incidents throughout the 2020/21 season.

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Despite having reservations over players using social media, particularly immediately after matches, Southgate insists he would never ban his squad from using the platform, but is urging those guilty of sending abuse to reconsider their actions.

"The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know," Southgate said. "Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.

Marcus Rashford celebrates his penalty winner against Romania in England's final Euro 2020 warm-up match
Image: Marcus Rashford has been subjected to racial abuse on social media on various occasions this season

"Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive? Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin? Why?

"Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You're on the losing side. It's clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that."

England begin their Euro 2020 campaign against Croatia on Sunday, before completing the group stage with matches against Scotland and the Czech Republic.

Henderson: Boos show why we need to keep taking a knee

England vice-captain Jordan Henderson believes if fans continue to boo when players take a knee ahead of matches then it highlights "there is still a problem" to fight.

The Liverpool midfielder admits he is frustrated by the fans who chose to boo the gesture at the Riverside Stadium.

"No, it doesn't (help anyone)," Henderson said.

"I think as players we've made it very clear that we'll all stand together against racism and that is the reason that we'll continue to take the knee and have done over the last few weeks.

Jordan Henderson (PA)
Image: England vice-captain Jordan Henderson has reiterated his support for taking a knee ahead of matches

"But I think the lads are starting to feel that they don't really want to talk about it anymore.

"Of course everybody knows we stand together and you'll see that in taking the knee, but we want to get on with football and concentrate on that and that's our focus, really."

Asked what his message is to fans going to Sunday's Euro 2020 opener against Croatia, Henderson said: "Well, I think it shows that if there's still people booing because we're standing together against racism that there is still a problem and we're still going to fight it and we stand together on that.

"That shows that even more that we need to keep going and we need to keep fighting it.

"But from our side it's about being together and doing what we think is right and that's what we feel is right."

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