Toby Young Toby Young

In defence of footballers taking the knee

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Before the television presenter Guto Harri took the knee live on air — which cost him his job at GB News last week — he explained that his understanding of the gesture had changed. Having initially thought of it as political with a capital ‘p’, he now realised that in the eyes of most people, including England’s young football players, it is simply a way of expressing your opposition to racism, as well as solidarity with its victims. It is not an expression of support for the Black Lives Matter organisation or its more controversial aims.

In retrospect, that seems pretty obvious. Professional footballers, who tend to be multi-millionaires, drive expensive cars and have young children, do not want to end capitalism, defund the police or dismantle the nuclear family. But like Guto, I had difficulty getting past my initial reaction to seeing them taking the knee because in my mind the gesture is linked to BLM — an impression reinforced by Premier League players wearing BLM badges on their shirts last year and football clubs unfurling huge banners in their stadiums saying ‘Black Lives Matter’. However, I now accept that when players start taking the knee again in a few weeks’ time — the first Championship game is on 6 August — it will not be because they’re rabid neo-Marxists.

The lazy caricature of football fans as National Front supporters in team shirts is out of date

I just wish the same latitude could be extended to the fans. Danny Finkelstein devoted his Times column to this subject last week, pointing out, correctly, that any Conservative politician picking a fight with the England players over this issue was bound to come off worse. But he went on to say, quite wrongly in my view, that when fans boo players taking the knee it is ‘racial abuse wearing the clothes of political argument’ and claimed they were the very same people who racially abused the black England players on Twitter and Instagram after the Euro 2020 final.

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