Raheem Sterling has said he wants people to understand the difficulties those from diverse backgrounds face after being honoured for promoting racial equality in sport.
The Manchester City forward was made an MBE after fronting anti-racism and discrimination campaigns and speaking out strongly against racism on and off the pitch for several years.
The 26-year-old has been subjected to vile online abuse throughout his career for both club and country, as well as from fans in the stands.
On receiving his MBE for services to racial equality in sport, Sterling said: “Receiving this honour is a fantastic feeling and a proud moment – not just for myself but for my family and friends.
“My motivation for racial equality is to get people to understand the difficulties people from diverse backgrounds face and create an environment where everybody is equal. I feel we are starting to make a step in the right direction, but we still have a lot of work to do.
“There are still a lot of things we can get better at as a society such as social media with people taking more accountability. I think that is a major factor in achieving the ultimate goal of racial equality.
“We also need to support young people and give them opportunities to show what they are capable of achieving.”
In autumn 2019, Sterling took part in an anti-racism campaign, No Room For Racism, involving the Premier League, the Football Association, the EFL, the Professional Footballers’ Association and anti-racism campaign group Kick It Out.
Last summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement gained traction following the murder of George Floyd in the US, Sterling said “now is the time to act” on racism.
He was one of several England players to appear in a video campaign calling for change as a result of the movement.
The honour comes amid a growing number of footballers being subject to racist abuse online, and discussion over footballers taking the knee before games, which has seen players met with boos.
But on Friday, ahead of England’s opening game of Euro 2020 on Sunday, Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the Prime Minister wants the public to “cheer them on, not boo” and explicitly supported those who decide to take part in the protest.
The gesture first originated among American football players in 2016, in protest against police brutality and racism in the US, and has since been adopted around the world.
Football players use it to reinforce the message that racism will not be tolerated in the sport.
Speaking about why England players will again take a knee in the upcoming Euro 2020 finals, Sterling expressed “real disappointment” that some fans have not understood the reasons behind it and booed the gesture at recent games.
In the past months, a growing number of footballers have been the victims of racist abuse on social media.
Earlier in May, the Football Association called on the Government to introduce legislation to compel social media companies to do more to stop online abuse.
That followed a four-day social media boycott which saw football organisations, clubs, players, other sports stars, major businesses and media outlets fall silent in protest.
A spokesman for the anti-racism education charity Show Racism the Red Card said: “We congratulate Raheem on having his commitment to highlighting the racial inequalities of society recognised.
“The same inequalities that have compelled players and the England squad to take the knee and to continue taking the knee to keep these issues at the forefront of our minds.
“Our charity’s ethos encourages players to use their platforms to speak out and act as role models for wider society, in particular the young people that look up to them, and there aren’t many better examples of that than Raheem.”
Troy Townsend, head of player engagement at Kick It Out, football’s equality and inclusion organisation, said: “Raheem Sterling has been a great advocate for equality in football. He has spoken openly and honestly about racism, including his own personal experiences.
“He has used his platform and profile in a really positive way to try and affect the change that is required. The honour he is receiving is very well deserved.”
Halima Begum, chief executive of the race equality think tank the Runnymede Trust, said: “Raheem has spoken openly, honestly and constructively about his own experiences of racism, and what needs to be done for Britain to continue its journey towards becoming a truly post racial society.
“The leadership of young black men is crucial to achieve the vision for an equal society that we all share. Raheem’s own role in tackling racism within sport is admirable, and it is very encouraging to see his efforts acknowledged and rewarded at the highest level.”