A senior football administrator has told Sky Sports News that officials consider the booing of England’s players taking a knee as “a racist act”, and fans who do so can no longer hide behind the excuse that they are protesting against some political aspects of the Black Lives Matter movement.
It comes after England boss Gareth Southgate’s pleas to respect the anti-discrimination gesture were once again ignored by a small section of fans during the side’s final Euro 2020 warm-up game against Romania.
The official goes on to say that because Southgate and the players have made it clear their gesture is a call for social justice and an end to discrimination in football, anyone who boos that gesture is showing they are clearly against the drive for racial equality.
“We can’t necessarily call the people who are booing racists, but it’s now absolutely clear that the booing is a racist act,” he says. “And going forward, that’s how we need to tailor our response, in terms of how we react to the booing.”
Sky Sports News has learned that talks are already underway involving various bodies within football to try to come up with a solution, so that the minority of fans who boo will not be so conspicuous.
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The fear is that if the booing continues during the Euros, it will represent the English game in a poor light internationally.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that the vast majority of supporters inside the Riverside Stadium for England’s two friendlies were England Supporters Club members, who had the first opportunity to buy tickets.
Officials believe those who were booing – and those who were applauding to try to drown out the boos – were largely made up of England’s most loyal fans.
That has led to real concerns that the same people who booed will also be present at Wembley for England’s group games in the Euros.
‘Booing England players for taking a knee has sinister undertones’
The booing of England taking a knee has sinister undertones and is being perpetrated by a small, vocal section of fans who “just want to perpetuate poison”.
That is the view of Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett, who has issued a rallying call to supporters to ‘drown out the idiots’ until the situation becomes a non-issue.
Southgate and his players remain defiant they will continue to take a knee and once again reiterated it is a show of unity in the fight against racial discrimination and social injustice and not politically motivated.
“The fact Gareth Southgate and the players have made it really clear and articulated the reasons for taking a knee and the fact it’s not linked to any political organisation does make me question the motives and rationale for people deciding to boo,” Burnett told Sky Sports News.
“Some of the narrative that has underpinned the gesture around the last 12 months and around the Black Lives Matter movement has been quite sinister.
“There’s been a lot of miscommunication and downright lies on the back of the message.
“Some people may be a bit confused but there are also some people who are taking a definite stance not to support any form of anti-discrimination campaign and I don’t think they would support taking the knee or any other gesture.
“At the same time, they are few in number, but they’ve got a loud voice and the good, solid England supporters need to keep drowning them out
“We’d like to see a situation where the boos are continually drowned out by applause and right-minded good people send a real message to those who just want to perpetuate poison.
“I honestly think there is enough good people in this country to make this a non-issue so my strong push would be the strong supporters, the good supporters and vast majority who support our team drown out the idiots.”
PM focused on ‘actions not gestures’
Boris Johnson “is more focused on action rather than gestures” but has urged fans to “get behind” the England team following the latest incident of fans booing players taking a knee.
On the issue, a Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister supports individuals’ rights to protest and fully respects the right of people in this country to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.
“On taking the knee, specifically, the Prime Minister is more focused on action rather than gestures.
“We have taken action with things like the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities and that’s what he’s focused on delivering.
Asked whether the Prime Minister was therefore refusing to criticise supporters who boo the anti-discrimination gesture, the spokesman added: “No… the Prime Minister is supporting the England football team and wants them to succeed and he wants the whole country to get behind them in that endeavour in this tournament.”
He added: “I would want all England fans to be respectful in any football match and, as I have said, he respects the right of those who want to peacefully protest in this way.”
‘Gesture has lost its meaning; England fans are not racist’
England fan CJ Joiner from Block 109 says the gesture of taking a knee losing its original meaning and is now being misinterpreted.
Taking a knee was originally started in September 2016 with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick using it to protest against police brutality and racism during the US national anthem.
While Joiner condemns the actions of the small minority who decided to boo the England players during their recent friendlies, he calls for a new, hard-hitting and clearer initiative to be launched.
“Players are doing it for one reason and one reason only, not to support any organisation but to show their support in the fight against discrimination and inequality,” Joiner told Sky Sports News.
“Those players are following the original message but this original message of Colin Kaepernick has been lost.
“The majority that were booing are not racist, it’s just how the message has now been misinterpreted and put out with perhaps some mistruths made about it too.
“Some organisations have taken it on which some people don’t agree with as well so fans are booing the groups associated with that, rather than the original point.
“We probably need something more hard-hitting now because this overall message has been lost – something that can be shown every single week, every single day.
“I don’t think the knee is that anymore but ultimately the players are taking a knee to fight discrimination – and it worries me that it will continue into the Euros.”
Kick It Out reporting racism
Kick It Out is football’s equality and inclusion organisation – working throughout the football, educational and community sectors to challenge discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change.