London (AFP) – A 12-year-old boy has been arrested after Crystal Palace forward Wilfried Zaha was racially abused in a series of social media messages before his side’s Premier League defeat at Aston Villa on Sunday.
Zaha posted on Twitter three screenshots of messages containing racial abuse from an Instagram account belonging to a Villa fan.
West Midlands Police said after Villa’s 2-0 win that they had arrested a boy from Solihull in relation to the incident.
“We were alerted to a series of racist messages sent to a footballer today and after looking into them and conducting checks, we have arrested a boy,” West Midlands Police said on their Twitter account.
“The 12-year-old from Solihull has been taken to custody. Thanks to everyone who raised it. Racism won’t be tolerated.”
Villa condemned the abuse and vowed to issue a lifetime ban, tweeting: “We deplore the disgusting racist messages sent to @wilfriedzaha.
“We condemn all forms of racial discrimination and stand with @CPFC . We are working with the police in investigating this extremely serious matter and when the culprit is identified AVFC will issue a lifetime ban.”
All Premier League games since the season’s restart last month have begun with players, staff and match officials taking a knee to protest against racial injustice.
The shirts of all 20 sides in the English top-flight have also carried a logo promoting the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Speaking ahead of the match, Palace manager Roy Hodgson said he supported Zaha’s call to make the direct messages public, as well as condemning the content of them.
“It is very saddening on the day of a game that a player wakes up to this cowardly and despicable abuse,” Hodgson said.
“I think it is right that Wilf made people aware of it; I don’t think it is something he should keep quiet about.
“I think it is very good that our club, Aston Villa and the Premier League are doing everything they can to find out who this despicable individual is and one can only hope that they will get identified and they will get called to account and they will pay for these actions.
“There is literally no excuse; there is no excuse at all.”
The posts came two weeks after the Premier League launched a new system to allow Premier League players to report online abuse.
“This behaviour is completely unacceptable and the Premier League stands alongside @wilfriedzaha in opposing this, and discrimination in any form. There is NoRoomForRacism, anywhere,” a Premier League statement said.
“We will continue to support players, managers, coaches and their family members who receive serious discriminatory online abuse.
“Through our dedicated reporting system we can take immediate action on cases like this.”
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