Kick It Out tells media to ‘remember its responsibilities’ after Bukayo Saka picture furore

Bukayo Saka comes on as a 65th-minute substitute against Iceland
Bukayo Saka (right) came on as a 65th-minute substitute against Iceland - AFP/Glyn Kirk

Kick It Out has told media to “remember its responsibilities” amid a furore over Bukayo Saka being pictured to illustrate England’s Euro 2024 warm-up defeat to Iceland.

Multiple media outlets – including Telegraph Sport – used pictures of the Arsenal forward either looking crestfallen on the turf or throwing a fan’s paper aeroplane away.

Former players and other leading campaigners believed using a picture of Saka in the context of a defeat risked them attracting a racist backlash on social media. Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho were all subject to severe racist abuse having missed from the spot in England’s penalty shootout loss to Italy at Euro 2020.

Tony Burnett, chief executive of the anti-discrimination charity, has now written to editors to question whether the media has “learned nothing” after previous social media pile-ons. “Newspapers, websites and even national broadcasters chose to portray Bukayo Saka as the scapegoat – once again – for England’s defeat by Iceland,” wrote Burnett. “This was despite him playing a bit-part role in the game, and coming onto the field after the winning goal was scored. Has the media learned nothing?”

Ian Wright had responded to a post on X, which featured a social media post by Telegraph Sport amongst other publications. “Now more than ever let’s get behind and support these young people,” said Wright, expressing dismay over the use of the Saka pictures. “We can all see what’s happening and who’s being set up to be the face of defeat.”

Saka came on as a 65th-minute substitute in the game at Wembley on Friday. In his open letter to editors, Burnett wrote: “Over the last few years, we know that a lot of work has gone into diversifying the media industry, and it has helped in showing that perpetrators of discrimination have been brought to justice.

“But many fans will have woken up on Saturday morning and questioned whether anything has changed at all. Heading into Euro 2024, fans are rightly asking whether the current England squad will see a repeat of what happened to Saka, Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho after the last Euros final where all three suffered terrible online abuse because of their actions on the field. It’s a question we have been asking ourselves at Kick it Out.

“There has been progress with prosecutions, and the Online Safety Bill has been passed to hopefully bring more scrutiny on social media companies. But last season, we received more reports – both online and in stadiums - targeting players than ever before. So whatever gains we are making, they are not enough.

“I shouldn’t need to remind you that the impact of black players being targeted in the media has a long history and is felt far and wide. It sends a message that they are not welcome, that they are only a misplaced kick from being vilified and it sends a message to online abusers that targeting players is fair game.

“But it also sends a message to fans from black and ethnic minority communities that they do not belong or can be abused too. Those points need to be considered when writing headlines or selecting images as deadlines approach. The words and pictures travel a long way, hitting harder than you might realise.

“The media needs to remember its responsibilities to not only report on discrimination but actively combat these issues and remind itself that it plays a crucial part in how players, fans and communities feel about themselves and their rightful place in football.”

Delroy Corinaldi, executive director of Black Footballers Partnership, and Darren Lewis, who is assistant editor of the Daily Mirror and president of the Sports Journalists’ Association, also criticised the use of Saka’s image in the wake of the defeat.

Saka, Rashford and Sancho were racially abused on social media in the wake of all three missing penalties in England’s 3-2 shootout loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.