English Premier League football players said Wednesday they will no longer take the knee before every match in the upcoming season, confining the anti-racism gesture to selected games.
“We have decided to select significant moments to take the knee during the season to highlight our unity against all forms of racism, and in so doing we continue to show solidarity for a common cause,” club captains said in a Premier League statement.
The league said it supported the captains’ decision, and would elevate anti-racism messaging as part of its “No Room for Racism” campaign — words that already feature on players’ sleeves.
Premier League players began taking the knee at the start of every game in June 2020, when the season resumed following a Covid shutdown, a month after the killing in the United States of George Floyd.
Ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling to protest against racial injustice in 2016, and the gesture has become a familiar sight across a range of sports since Floyd’s murder by a US police officer.
But several Premier League players have said the gesture was losing its impact — and some right-wing politicians in Britain have criticised its identification with the Black Lives Matter protest movement.
Wilfried Zaha, a black striker for Crystal Palace, was an early dissident, labelling the gesture “degrading” and opting to stand instead.
Last season, Chelsea’s white defender Marcos Alonso decided to stand and point instead to the anti-racism badge on his shirt sleeve.
Social media insults
Alonso’s then team-mate Romelu Lukaku said football had to take “stronger” action in the fight against racism, with abuse still rife against black footballers on social media.
“Yeah, we are taking the knee… but sometimes after the game, you see another insult,” Lukaku told CNN Sport in September last year.
Rather than every match, Premier League players now intend to take the knee at this weekend’s opening round of the season, and before dedicated “No Room for Racism” match rounds in October and March.
The captains said they will also observe it before Boxing Day fixtures, on the final day of the season, and before the FA Cup and League Cup finals.
“We remain resolutely committed to eradicate racial prejudice, and to bring about an inclusive society with respect and equal opportunities for all,” they said in the statement.
Sales of “No Room For Racism” sleeve badges on replica club shirts last season raised £119,000 ($145,000) in royalties for the teams.
They are donating that sum to designated youth clubs, with the Premier League matching the amount, according to the statement.
The players’ gesture has been generally respected by fans before matches.
But sections of the crowd at England games booed the players when they took the knee, prompting an angry response from the national team manager Gareth Southgate.
Piara Powar, head of anti-discrimination organisation the Fare Network, told AFP last year that taking the knee was still a meaningful act even if it had become embroiled in a “culture war-type debate”.
“It is something that is impactful,” he said. “If it wasn’t impactful, people wouldn’t be booing it.”