A Conservative MP has attacked Marcus Rashford for “playing politics” when he should have been practising football, following his Euro 2020 penalty miss.
The England footballer has won across-the-board praise for his campaigns to ensure poor children receive free school meals and has now launched a book club to encourage them to read more.
But, following England’s defeat to Italy, Natalie Elphicke said: “They lost. Would it be ungenerous to suggest Rashford should have spent more time perfecting his game and less time playing politics”.
It is understood that the Dover MP was criticised by another Tory MP after posting the message in a Conservative WhatsApp group.
Ms Elphicke has now apologised, saying the message had “shared the frustration and heartbreak of millions of other England fans”.
“I regret messaging privately a rash reaction about Marcus Rashford’s missed penalty and apologise to him for any suggestion that he is not fully focussed on his football,” she said.
“Onwards to the World Cup and I look forward to Marcus Rashford’s contribution at that time.”
The Food Foundation, which campaigns for affordable and healthy food for all, heaped praise on the Manchester United star for his work for more than a year.
“He’s brought more attention to the issue than we ever thought possible. No matter the setbacks, he’s a hero on and off the pitch. Thank you Marcus,” the organisation tweeted.
Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka also missed from the spot in a shootout, as Italy won 3-2 on penalties at Wembley after a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, accused Ms Elphicke of “sneering at the inspirational players who stepped up to feed hungry kids when they voted to leave them without food”.
“Whether it’s their failure to support the vulnerable, or booing our boys after they have done our whole country proud, the nasty party is back,” she said.
“After his failure to support our players in their stance against racism, Boris Johnson must publicly condemn these disgraceful messages. Whose side is he on, the lion hearts on the pitch or the Tory MPs who attack them?”
Last year, Mr Rashford forced the government into a U-turn over its plans not to fund free meals that would otherwise be given to pupils during holidays.
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He has now stepped up that campaign, calling on the prime minister to carry out an urgent review into the government’s school meals policy in England.
The footballer joined forces with TV chefs Jamie Oliver, Tom Kerridge, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and the actress Dame Emma Thompson.
Meanwhile, he has teamed up with publisher Macmillan Children’s to donate 50,000 books in more than 850 primary schools across England and Scotland.