Zaha, a 27-year-old forward who was born in Ivory Coast before moving to England when he was a child, shared an Instagram account in his post that suggested his abuser was a fan of Aston Villa, Crystal Palace’s opponent Sunday.
Before the match, Aston Villa said in a statement: “We deplore the disgusting racist messages sent to [Zaha]. We condemn all forms of racial discrimination and stand with [Crystal Palace].
“We are working with the police in investigating this extremely serious matter and when the culprit is identified AVFC will issue a lifetime ban.”
Following Villa’s 2-0 win over Palace, police in England’s West Midlands, where Aston Villa is located, announced that after looking into the messages sent to Zaha they “arrested a boy.”
Police said the 12-year-old was a resident of the West Midlands town of Solihull. “Racism won’t be tolerated,” they declared.
In a reply to Zaha’s tweet, the Premier League said that the messages sent to Zaha were “completely unacceptable” and that it stands with him “in opposing this, and discrimination in any form.” The league added a hashtag, #NoRoomForRacism, that it debuted Tuesday as part of a campaign to “tackle discrimination across all areas of football.”
The league also noted that last month it rolled out a “dedicated reporting system for players, managers, coaches and their family members who receive serious discriminatory online abuse.”
“Online discriminatory abuse is unacceptable in any walk of life and tackling this issue must be a priority,” Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said in a statement at the time. “There are too many instances of footballers and their families receiving appalling discriminatory messages; nobody should have to deal with this.”
The league noted then the racial abuse suffered by BBC analyst and former Crystal Palace star Ian Wright, who shared in June messages he had recently been sent, including the n-word, images of monkeys, references to cotton picking and demands that he go “back to Africa.” He said in a caption with that post, “This is what I received for posting and talking about #BlackLivesMatter yesterday.”
As issues of racial injustice have moved to the forefront of the national conversation in the United States following the killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement has also grown in the United Kingdom and other countries. When the Premier League returned to play last month following a three-month hiatus amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, players had that phrase instead of their last names on the backs of their jerseys, and they have been taking a knee on the field before matches start.
Approximately a week after the league resumed its season, a plane flew over a league match towing a “White Lives Matter” banner. It appeared to be an attempt by fans of one side, Burnley, to upset black players for the other team, Manchester City, and Burnley issued a statement in which it apologized “unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter.”
Of the messages sent to Zaha, Crystal Palace Manager Roy Hodgson said before Sunday’s match (via Sky Sports), “It is very saddening on the day of a game that a player wakes up to this cowardly and despicable abuse.”
“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,” Hodgson added. “There is literally no excuse; there is no excuse at all.”
Zaha has been subjected to racial abuse in the past, as have other black players in the Premier League and other European soccer leagues. Crystal Palace said last year that it took unspecified action after one such incident, and Zaha revealed in 2018 that he was targeted for abuse and threats after drawing a key penalty in a match against Arsenal.
Wright, 56, said in a tweet Sunday that those who think Zaha’s experience is “not the norm for black people” are mistaken.
“These are real people & daily experiences!!” Wright tweeted. “Sooner we accept it the better we can deal with it!!!”
He added, “We stand with you Wilf.”