London (AFP) – Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has pledged to fund efforts to stamp out discrimination after several Premier League stars, including Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, were subjected to online abuse.
Just hours after United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer repeated calls for social media platforms to tackle racist abuse, Abramovich joined the fight against internet trolls.
Chelsea defender Reece James, West Brom’s Romaine Sawyers and Rashford’s team-mates Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial have also suffered online racist abuse over the past week.
Abramovich is understood to have written to each member of the Chelsea men’s squad, including James, to express how “appalled” he was by the abuse and his renewed desire to fight it.
“I am appalled by the racist abuse targeted at Reece on social media,” Abramovich said.
“Racism has no place in our club nor in our society. Our club is committed to fighting racism, anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination.
“We cannot allow this to continue unchecked. I have therefore directed the board to further increase the club’s efforts in this area and I will personally direct more funds towards this important work.”
Russian billionaire Abramovich wants Chelsea to “do more to challenge discrimination at our club, in our communities and in the world around us”.
Solskjaer, who last week echoed the club’s condemnation of the “mindless idiots” who abused Tuanzebe and Martial, faced more questions about the issue after Rashford was attacked following Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Arsenal.
“This way of discrimination on social media, we can’t do a lot can we?” he said on Monday at a pre-match press conference.
“So we have to work with the platforms and they’ve got to be stronger to make sure that we stop this.”
Solskjaer, whose side host Southampton on Tuesday, said: “We all know there’s freedom of speech but this crosses a line of what’s unacceptable.
“It’s absolutely unacceptable behaviour in 2021 with the education. You feel the ignorance or you feel sorry for them — that’s what I always say.
“We’ve just got to help them and sometimes you help them by taking away the chance of expressing themselves, especially when they’re anonymous.”
Rashford, a high-profile campaigner against child food poverty, acknowledged the racist abuse on Saturday but chose not to share offending screenshots.
“Humanity and social media at its worst,” he tweeted. “Yes I’m a black man and I live every day proud that I am.”
Police are investigating racist comments sent to United players and arrested a 49-year-old man on suspicion of racially abusing Sawyers.
Britain’s Prince William, who is president of the English Football Association, on Sunday branded the racist abuse directed at footballers “despicable”.
“We all have a responsibility to create an environment where such abuse is not tolerated, and those who choose to spread hate and division are held accountable for their actions,” he tweeted.
“That responsibility extends to the platforms where so much of this activity now takes place.”
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