The booing knee of a British football star is a symptom of lingering racism in sports

Few people expected that England fans would boo their team at the start of this year’s European Football Championship, but this is exactly what happened when the entire team bowed its knees to fight racism and discrimination.

As the team entered the second round of the tournament, the cheers basically drowned out the boos. However, the apparent reluctance of some senior government politicians to support the team’s posture-or to call on those booing-has reignited the debate on British sports and social racism.

“As a black fan, I have participated in football matches for almost 50 years,” said Chris Grant, an independent board member of Sports England, a royal chartered organization dedicated to ensuring that everyone can participate in sports.

“When I went there for the first time, it was a creepy experience,” Grant said. “This is challenging in many ways. People can say, sing, throw and all kinds of things. In my life, we have gone through a process of getting better.”

But not anymore, he said.

“To be honest, in the past 20 or 30 years, I have never been as worried as I am now [as right now] Things may get worse before they get better. “

According to data from the British football equality and inclusion organization Kick It Out, reported racial abuse in professional football has increased by 53% from this season to last season. Discrimination reports have increased by 42%.

Ridiculed as “gestural politics”

Following the murder of George Floyd by the police in Minneapolis and the “black life is life” demonstrations around the world, players in the Premier League and the Premier League began to bow their knees in June last year.

The England team decided to continue to do so during the European Cup that started in mid-June. They were booed by some of their supporters in the warm-up match, which prompted the British Football Association (FA) to respond quickly.

The governing body said in a statement: “There is no doubt why the player wants a knee and what it represents in a football environment.”

Watch | Chris Grant talks about his experience as a long-time fan:

A longtime football fan and a member of the English Sports Board talked about the role of social media in perpetuating racism in English football. 0:56

“We encourage those who oppose this action to reflect on your message to the players you support. Please respect their wishes and remember that we should unite to fight discrimination.”

Nearly half of the England team is made up of non-white players, with big names including Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling supported by teammates and England coach Gareth Southgate Next, use their personal data to raise awareness of racism.

After the first booing incident, Southgate said the team was “more determined than ever” and continued to kneel. “The most important thing for our players is to let them know that we are fully united in this matter. We are fully committed to supporting each other and supporting the team.”

Some members of the British ruling political class failed to support the team in this regard, causing a whole new controversy.

In an interview with GB News earlier this month, the British Home Secretary Priti Patel accused British players of indulging in “gestural politics.”

In the podcast, the Conservative Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, said that those who booed were responding to the “potential political message” that “black people are also fate”. He thought it was a Marxist Ism movement.

He went on to say that the movement “does not sympathize with Britain as a country.”

Long-standing racism in football

Critics accuse some conservative politicians of trying to shift the agenda away from the issue of racism itself.

Watch | England players face strong opposition due to knee injuries before the European Cup:

European Cup players are kneeling in the name of racial injustice and are splitting the team and their supporters, but in this regard, no team is more determined than England-even though some of their own fans booed. 2:30

“Only fools can believe in the weird theories they fabricated to confuse the public,” columnist Tony Evans wrote in a recent article for The Independent. “The same goes for those booing supporters who claim to be protesting Marxism. They can’t imitate, but too many people take them seriously.”

Race relations in Britain are already worrying. In March, equality activists severely criticized a report on racial disparities commissioned by the government, which downplayed institutional racism and praised the United Kingdom as “a role model for other white-majority countries”.

Chris Grant said reality is a documented, persistent and deep-rooted discrimination.

He said: “It is difficult to have a middle ground on certain things.” “Either you are trying to solve something that has happened for a long time, or you don’t.”

Grant remembers going to The Den in 1989 to watch his football hero Ian Wright’s game, just like at the Lions Den of Millwall Football Club.

“Every time the ball gets close to Ian Wright, people boo. Many people boo because they don’t like the idea that black players represent England.”

In some cases, they will throw bananas on the court to insult players. Although this rarely happens now, Grant said that such abuse still exists and thrives on social media.

Marcus Rashford of England has been a voice in tackling racism in sports. (Lawrence Griffith/Reuters)

“It’s been about 40 years since I was last called a monkey. The fact that monkey emojis are part of it…reminds me of the fact that we are now backwards in some ways.”

Social media effect

British writer and sports journalist Musa Okwonga agreed and pointed out that technology companies had failed to take action.

“You are basically an emotional harpoon, you can shoot into the hearts of people from all over the world. This is a new thing. This is something that social media facilitates, so new guidelines need to be developed for this. No,” He says.

“When it comes to deleting footage uploaded by people in violation of copyright, [they] Take it down that afternoon. You have an algorithm for this. But when it comes to racial abuse, you don’t have an algorithm. ”

In May, Manchester United star Marcus Rashford reported about 70 abusive messages on social media after his team lost the game. Prior to this, English football clubs, players and other sports organizations conducted a four-day boycott of social media aimed at targeting online abuse.

Last year, Rashford earned a reputation for himself outside of football. When the pandemic shut down face-to-face learning, he humiliated the government and asked the school to provide lunch for poor children.

Okwonga is writing a novel based on the life of a football player with Ian Wright, who is outspoken on the issue of race in the UK. Okwonga moved to Berlin, he said, because he was shocked by Britain’s attitude towards immigration.

Both his parents are doctors, who came to this country from Uganda during the Uganda Civil War.

He does not object to people’s description of kneeling as a political act, but he does not understand this strong opposition.

“When [being political] Become a derogatory term? Women did not get votes by asking questions in good faith. Women have to take votes from people who don’t care,” Okwonga said.

“Kneeling people would rather continue to live, but racism is preventing them from doing so. If this prevents them from enjoying the workplace, which is the actual situation of the playing field, then it must continue to play and be able to play.”

He said, “When people say,’Kneel down and I will hush,’ I think, well, what other forms of protest do you think are respectable?”

Debate brings “clarity”

Some Premier League players, including Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, have already expressed fatigue with the kneeling posture, saying it has not made a real change.

Others, including Grant and Okwonga, said the conversation it continues to generate is very important.

“I’m not sure how long the players will kneel,” Okwonga said. “I’m not sure when they will cancel this gesture. But I think the fact that we are having this conversation now proves its impact and clarity.”

Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace was standing in the Premier League between Crystal Palace and Leicester City in April. Other players injured their knees. (Andrew Boyes/Pool/Getty Images)

Grant said it provides an opportunity to expand dialogue to break down institutional barriers in sports.

“In the entire history of the Premier League, there are only nine head coaches who are not white,” he pointed out.

“So going back to those players with knee injuries, one thing they know is that despite the changes in the players’ lives, because they have the opportunity to stand out and make progress in the game, when they retire and whether they want to play a role actually, Whether in terms of leadership in the game or coaching, the obstacles of the 1980s still exist.”

Grant’s parents both served in World War II, one in the army and the other in the Royal Air Force. He considers himself “a lover of British landscape, British culture and all the beautiful things here”.

“But I have never been able to take it for granted,” he said. “I only know and must understand that in my lifetime, some people will never fully accept my right to wear an England jersey as a fan… let alone as a player.”

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