Wilfried Zaha becomes first Premier League player to refuse to take the knee

Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha has become the first Premier League footballer not to take a knee, since the action became commonplace following the death of George Floyd in the United States.

Immediately after kick-off at Palace’s home match against West Bromwich Albion, Zaha released a statement through his representatives which read:  “My decision to stand at kick-off has been public knowledge for a couple of weeks now. There is no right or wrong decision, but for me personally I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse.

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“I know there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes at the Premier League and other authorities to make change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved. I also fully respect my team-mates and players at other clubs who continue to take the knee.

“As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools, and social media companies should be taking stronger action against people who abuse others online – not just footballers.”  

Speaking before today’s fixture, Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson said: “We respect every individual’s right to make his protest against the terrible things that are going on and certainly have been going on for such a long period of time. We respect their right to do it in the way they think is best and to show their abhorrence of all things racism in the strongest possible terms. 

“Wilf is of the opinion that taking the knee now isn’t showing his abhorrence as much as he would like, so he’s decided to do something different. But the team, they’ve decided that they will continue to do what the other teams are doing, and this decision of Wilf’s is very much a personal one which we all respect and the team has no problem with it whatsoever.

“It will just mean that when the players take the knee, he will show his opposition to racism and everything that is going on in the way he thinks is the strongest way to do it. Because one thing is for certain here – Wilf’s feeling on the subject is every bit as strong as everybody else’s in the country. It’s just that he has decided he wants to find another way of showing it.”

Last month, the talented winger said: “Growing up, my parents just let me know that I should just be proud to be black, no matter what. I just think we should stand tall.”

Speaking on the On Judy Podcast in February, the Ivorian footballer capped for England at youth level said:  “The whole kneeling down – why must I kneel down for you to show that we matter?”

Wilfried is not the only footballer to have rebelled against taking a knee. Nottingham Forest forward Lyle Taylor recently  said: “I would request anyone looks into Black Lives Matter to look into what that organisation does and what they stand for because it’s scandalous that the world and the world’s media has got behind Black Lives Matter.”

The action of players taking a knee is set to continue until the end of the Premier League season, players will then be consulted on the issue.

“Taking the knee last season was a big statement and it was player-led,” said the Premier League’s chief executive, Richard Masters. “For the rest of the season you will see anti-racism messaging on players’ shirts and the continuation of taking the knee. But if the players feel uncomfortable about it, that’s fine, too. It’s never been an instruction – always a personal choice.

“We’ll discuss with the players in the close season what we’re going to do to continue to make our feelings clear about anti-discrimination messaging going forward.”