The Football Association’s director of equality, diversity & inclusion has struck out at fans booing footballers taking the knee before matches, incensing free-speech advocates.
With the football season having come to a close, a debate is brewing over whether players should feel obliged to take the knee, a gesture signifying opposition to racial inequality strongly associated with the Black Lives Matter movement, before matches.
Invited onto Sky News, FA director Edleen John was asked whether taking the knee was just an “empty gesture… that doesn’t lead to real change” and should be binned.
Edleen quickly took a defensive position, telling the Sky presenter: “Let’s be clear on what taking the knee is. Taking the knee is players protesting against inequality, injustice and discrimination across the game.
“It isn’t aligned to a particular political party and I know that there are those who have tried to mar the narrative around this and say it’s something to do with politics, it isn’t.”
Stepping up her unprompted attack against sceptics of the gesture, John said: “When you are booing players who are taking the knee, what you are in effect booing is the right of those individuals on that pitch to have a voice and to protest against inequality, and so from an FA standpoint we will always support any individual who chooses to protest in a respectful way and taking the knee is an action that is respectful.”
Straining credulity, as well as lightly advocating the “action”, John went on to assert that taking the knee helps to keep the debate going in English households, even though for many fans, it has become utterly meaningless.
Up until recently, incidents of the gesture being booed were rare with Millwall FC getting a rap on the knuckles for booing a match against Colchester in December. Fans’ displeasure at the American-invented form of protest resurfaced on the last day of the season when Aston Villa took on Chelsea.
“To anyone that booed us taking the knee, have a look at yourself and ask if you truly support equality and equal opportunity for the black players on the pitch,” tweeted England and Villa defender, Tyrone Mings, who is black. “It’s tiring. Educate yourself.”
The FA is said to be looking into ways of policing any protest against the protest. A special video is being mooted.
The BLM movement came to international attention a year ago on the back of George Floyd’s death. The England team chose to adopt taking the knee.
“I’m all for a stand against racism,” posted one fan. “But I won’t support anybody or anything that shares its symbolism with a Marxist communist ideology. If you want to take a stand against racism then maybe stand arm in arm.”
In spite of John’s carefully worded claims that BLM has no direct links with a political party, its ideological leanings are well known and were well and truly declared when the movement’s UK chapter came out as pro-Palestine not long after Floyd’s death. Meanwhile, some footballers, led by black players, have openly questioned kneeling down before matches and associating with BLM.
“I would request anyone look 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,” said Nottingham Forest star striker, Lyle Taylor in February.
Taylor does not take the knee and told LBC he felt “sorry” for players who do, adding, “a white player cannot stand there and say: ‘I’m not taking the knee.’”
Taylor’s brave stance was followed by a squad-wide rejection by Brentford in the same month. It seems to have worked out for them, on Saturday, the West London club was promoted to the Premier League.
John’s uncompromising position was repelled by free speech campaigner Toby Young, who tweeted in response to the above clip: “When football clubs punish fans for booing twentysomething, Bentley-driving, private jet-renting multi-millionaires for claiming to care about ‘inequality’, they are breaching their right to call out absolute bollocks when they see it.”
“I just want to watch a football match. I don’t want it politicising,” tweeted one individual in response.
Another fan expressed optimism that knee taking would soon be junked, thanks to the power of booing: “Next season fans in grounds booing the knee will be the norm so much so players won’t take the knee, not because of the booing but because they never wanted to do in the first place.”
Another touched on Taylor’s complaint: “Players ‘voluntarily’ taking the knee is disingenuous as well. Some will do so because they want to and some will reluctantly through peer pressure and fear of being labelled a racist.”
One person cheekily suggested: “They should do a surprise kick-off while players are busy with their empty virtue signalling. How long before they spring up?”