David James has urged England not to walk off the pitch in the event of racist abuse in either of their next two Euro 2020 qualifiers.
Striker Tammy Abraham has said that the team are prepared to ignore UEFA protocols and leave the field against the Czech Republic and Bulgaria during this international break if there is any repeat of the sort of abuse directed at England’s black players during the qualifier in Montenegro in March.
But James, who suffered racist abuse during his own playing career, believes the best approach is to play on.
He told the PA news agency: “When you’re going to a particular environment, you have to understand that if there isn’t a protocol by UEFA to leave the pitch then you have to stick to the rules.
“Providing there is no physical danger to the players, the best way they can answer the abuse is by playing the best they can, winning the game, walking off the pitch at the end of 90 minutes and then putting in a complaint.”
UEFA operates a three-step protocol in the event of the referee or other officials becoming aware of racist abuse from supporters inside a stadium.
First an announcement is made over the stadium’s public address system ordering the abuse to stop, and if it persists the referee will take the teams off the field for a reasonable period of time.
If the abuse continues after that break, then the game is abandoned.
James insists the best way to respond to any racist abuse is to try to rise above it.
“Tammy Abraham is a great footballer. I don’t want him to suffer any abuse at all, of course, but he can answer that kind of abuse with a five-star performance, (get) three points for England, then let the FA and UEFA deal with the issues afterwards,” he said.
“As a footballer you have to have thick skin, and that doesn’t condone any kind of racial abuse, but all it does show is that you are capable of playing under extreme provocation. You’ll be the greater man if you show that you can perform in these conditions.”
James also spoke about another problem affecting society at the moment, the rise of gambling addiction, especially among young males.
Specialist clinics have opened this year to combat the rise, even among people as young as 13.
James has teamed up with GambleAware and the Football Supporters’ Association (FSA) as an ambassador for the Safer Gambling campaign – Bet Regret, and believes the ease of access to gambling can be an issue for some people.
“It’s about avoiding risky betting. Boredom, being drunk and chasing losses – all three apply to younger people because they can get themselves into those positions,” he said.
“I used to play fruit machines, essentially doing the same thing. The environment has changed, you can go on your phone, tablet or whatever and it’s accessible essentially 24 hours a day.
“It’s a difficult situation to deal with. The freedom and ease of doing it can cause problems. It is about trying to make people aware of certain scenarios where you are likely to make an impulsive bet.”
James admits footballers are at equal risk of succumbing to a gambling addiction as anyone, but is pleased that the level of support from charities and the players’ union the Professional Footballers’ Association has improved since his playing days.
“We as footballers are the same. People would play cards, go down the bookies after a training session, I’d go and play on the fruit machines,” he said.
“It’s always been there, fortunately now thanks to the campaign we are able to give advice to the target group of people and try to eliminate the risky gambling.”