A 12-year-old boy has been arrested in connection with racist threats made to Wilfried Zaha, a star player for the UK soccer team Crystal Palace.
Ahead of a game in the English Premier League on Sunday, Zaha wrote on Twitter, “Woke up to this today,” then showed what he had been sent by a user who appeared to be a fan of Palace’s opponent in Sunday’s match, Aston Villa.
“You better not score tomorrow you black c**t. Or I’ll come to your house dressed as a ghost,” the person wrote.
There was an accompanying image of the Ku Klux Klan and a cereal box named, “c**n flakes.”
Crystal Palace called the abuse “an absolute disgrace” on Twitter and said it “should not be happening.”
Aston Villa then retweeted the London club’s statement, vowing to issue a lifetime ban to the individual who posted the abuse.
“We deplore the disgusting racist messages sent to @wilfriedzaha. We condemn all forms of racial discrimination and stand with @CPFC,” the club based in Birmingham, central England, wrote.
“We are working with the police in investigating this extremely serious matter and when the culprit is identified AVFC will issue a lifetime ban.”
Later that day, the West Midlands Police announced on Twitter that it had made an arrest — of an individual whose lifetime ban could be very long indeed.
“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. The 12-year-old from #Solihull has been taken to custody. Thanks to everyone who raised it. Racism won’t be tolerated,” the police force tweeted.
Premier League statement
The Premier League, widely considered the most watched football league in the world, also condemned the actions of the offender.
“This behaviour is completely unacceptable and the Premier League stands alongside @wilfriedzaha in opposing this, and discrimination in any form. There is #NoRoomForRacism, anywhere,” it tweeted.
“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.”
Late last month, the league launched the system that would “enable players, managers and coaches to notify” it “of serious discriminatory abuse” received via direct messages on social media platforms.
“Each case will be reviewed, reported to the relevant social media company, investigated and legal action taken where appropriate,” said the league.
Speaking before the Villa game, Palace manager Roy Hodgson said the actions of the individual were “cowardly” and “despicable.” He praised Zaha for going public.
“It is very saddening on the day of a game that a player wakes up to this cowardly and despicable abuse,” Hodgson told Sky.
“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.”
Zaha was racially abused last year and said he received death threats after winning a penalty for Palace against Arsenal in October 2018.
The head of Kick It Out, which according to its Twitter handle has “campaigned for equality since 1993,” told CNN in February that he believed racism in sport is “worse now than it was five years ago.”
“Football is very different to what it was in the 1970s, racism is not the endemic thing that it was in the 1970s,” said Sanjay Bhandari. “Over a 40, 50 year period? We’ve definitely [made progress]. But it’s worse than it was five years ago, and it’s worse than it was seven years ago.”
Kick It Out said Sunday on Twitter: “We are extremely disappointed that Wilf Zaha has once again been the subject of targeted racial abuse.”
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“Those who continue to select professional sports people in this way, need to be brought to justice and face the strongest consequences.”