Rio Ferdinand: ‘Racism will be in players’ minds in high-pressure World Cup situations’

Former England defender talks racism, sexuality and mental health in football after making a trilogy of films on those subjects“If you’re a black player who is a great penalty taker, like Ivan Toney, it will be on your mind,” Rio Ferdinand says as he anticipates the anxiety that may ripple through the England squad which flies to Qatar for the World Cup next week. “If Toney gets in the squad one of his first actions in the World Cup could be being brought on to take a penalty. There’s no doubt in my mind he’ll be thinking: ‘Shit, I know what happened to [Bukayo] Saka, [Jadon] Sancho and [Marcus] Rashford.’”Those young black footballers missed penalties in the shootout which secured Italy’s victory over England in the final of the European Championships last year. They suffered sustained racial abuse online in a depressing example of the way in which prejudice is still rife. Ferdinand, who won 81 caps for England and played in two World Cups, has spent the last few years immersed in making a trilogy of films. Two documentaries about racism and sexuality consider how to overcome the bigotry which scars football while the third explores the consequences for mental health in a game which Ferdinand believes has reached a “tipping point”.

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