From the Viewsroom

When football takes a knee

B Baskar | Updated on June 25, 2020 Published on June 26, 2020

Soccer Football - Premier League - Aston Villa v Chelsea - Villa Park, Birmingham, Britain - June 21, 2020 Chelsea's Olivier Giroud takes a knee before the match in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Justin Tallis/Pool via REUTERS EDITORIAL USE ONLY. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. Please contact your account representative for further details.   -  REUTERS

Players take the lead in sending a powerful anti-racism message

The world’s most popular football league — the English Premier League — restarted last week after a break of three months, during which the world was ravaged by a deadly virus. The matches were played in empty stadiums with no fans and under a myriad set of safety protocols.

But, interestingly, when Sheffield United locked horns with Aston Villa, the players as well as the coaching staff ‘took a knee’ in a tribute to George Floyd, the African-American who was brutally killed by cops in Minneapolis. Not only that, the players also displayed the ‘Black Lives Matter’ slogan at the back of their jerseys instead of their names. This practice was repeated in all the EPL matches that followed.

It must have been a poignant moment for Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings, who endured horrific racist abuse in last year’s England versus Bulgaria Euro 2020 qualifier match at Sofia.

Before the EPL restarted, in the German league — the Bundesliga — too players expressed their solidarity to the protest movements against racism in the US and elsewhere by ‘taking the knee’.

Racism in English football was rife back in the 1970s and the 1980s, just when players of African and Afro-Caribbean origin were beginning to make a mark. Money chants, racist abuse and throwing banana peels at non-White players were more the norm than exception in English stadiums those days.

But things changed for the better in the 1990s, when English football wanted to desperately get rid of its ‘hooligan’ tag. Racism, at least in its more blatant forms, was largely stamped out in that decade. The occasional instances of racism since were handled swiftly by the authorities, and people indulging in such acts were handed out stadium bans.

For some, ‘taking a knee’ may be a largely symbolic gesture that does little to change everyday reality. But this symbolic gesture shows that European football has come a long way since the dark days of 1970s, and has its heart in the right place.

The writer is Senior Deputy Editor with BusinessLine

Published on June 26, 2020
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