CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – British and Irish Lions lock Maro Itoje has slammed the “appalling” racist abuse meted out to the trio of Black England soccer players who missed penalties in the final of the European Championship on Sunday.

Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka all missed their kicks in the shoot-out as Italy won 3-2 on penalties following a 1-1 draw at Wembley, leaving England’s 55-year wait for a major trophy on-going.

Twitter said it had removed more than 1,000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts following the “abhorrent” racist abuse directed at the England players.

“It’s appalling, to be honest,” Itoje told reporters in Cape Town on Monday. “It’s just incredibly sad to hear, sad to see, it’s sad that we have to have this conversation in 2021.

“And this is a large amount of the reason why so much talk is done about racism in sport because these incidences happen on a semi-regular basis, which is not what anyone wants to see. It’s not what anyone wants to hear.

“It’s become cliche to say this but we need to do more. We need to do more to tackle it, we need to do more to get these types of people out of stadiums, we need to do more to tackle this type of football culture that ruins it for a large amount of people.”

Arsenal fan Itoje said he felt particularly sorry for teenager Saka, who was left in tears on the pitch following his miss and has since been a target for abuse.

“As soon as he missed, I knew what was coming. I knew that there was going to be an outrage on social media.

“When he missed the penalty, and I saw his reaction after, I just felt so sad for him. He’s a young man. He’s 19 years old. He’s going to play for England for many years to come.

“As athletes, you can take heat when it’s about your performance. But when it’s about things that are personal like race, things that are completely out of your control, I just think that’s unacceptable.”

Itoje is in the Lions side that will play South Africa ‘A’ in Cape Town on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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