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The Scotland players have performed a U-turn over taking the knee and agreed to make the gesture “in solidarity” with Gareth Southgate’s England team before their Euro 2020 fixture next Friday.
Steve Clarke’s team stopped taking the knee in March amid concerns that the gesture had become “diluted” and, although they will instead “stand against racism” in their other group matches at Hampden Park, they will kneel with England at Wembley.
It followed communication in recent days between the Scotland and England players. The Scotland captain Andrew Robertson is a Liverpool team-mate of England vice-captain Jordan Henderson and said that the team will now “kneel against ignorance” at Wembley as a symbol of solidarity.
The taking the knee gesture began in British football last summer during the Premier League’s Project Restart and was accompanied by the ‘Black Lives Matter’ logo on the shirts of the players. That was then replaced for the 2020-21 season by a badge saying ‘No Room for Racism’.
England players have said that taking the knee is about equality and anti-racism and not meant as a political gesture and is not linked to a political movement.
They were met with boos, however, by some fans when performing the gesture before last week’s friendly matches against Austria and Romania. Gillian Keegan, the education minister, described England footballers taking the knee as a divisive move that represents “symbolism more than action”.
Speaking on BBC’s Question Time, Keegan said she was "pretty sure" that the majority of those fans who were booing footballers for taking the knee were also anti-racist but disagreed with a statement that has been linked to the Black Lives Matter movement.
In explaining why his players would kneel with the England team, Clarke said that their stance on not taking the knee was being misrepresented by some people.
"In light of divisive and inaccurate comments being perpetuated by individuals and groups, whose views we denounce in the strongest terms, we have reflected as a group,” he said. “We remain committed to our principles of taking a stand but we must also be unequivocal in condemning the opportunistic false narrative being presented by some.
"We have therefore agreed that we will show solidarity with our counterparts in England, many of whom are team-mates of our own players, and who have found themselves on the receiving end of abuse from fans in recent international matches.”
The move has been welcomed by the FA, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon. “The Prime Minister would like everyone to cheer them on, not boo,” said a spokesperson.
FA chairman Mark Bullingham said that he was “delighted” by the cooperation between the players. “We’ve always said everything is the players’ decision,” he said. “It’s never been a political gesture, it's an act of equality, of anti-discrimination. I’m sure their players have always been supportive of that, they have just chosen to demonstrate that in different ways.”
Sturgeon said that the players “will unite in solidarity against racism” and praised the “good decision”. Robertson also stressed the need for meaningful change that goes beyond a symbolic gesture. "Our stance is that everyone, players, fans, teams, clubs, federations, governing bodies and governments must do more,” he said. “Meaningful action is needed if meaningful change is to occur. But it is also clear, given the events around the England national team, taking the knee in this tournament matters as a symbol of solidarity.”
Keegan had said that taking the knee was "creating new divisions" in sport. "Actually what we’ve ended up with, whether it’s for statues, whether it’s the Queen’s picture, whether it’s taking the knee, we’ve ended up with these things being things that kind of divide us and actually, united societies are what solve these big issues,” said Keegan.
“The people who are booing, I’m pretty sure most of them would like to end racism as well. They disagree. There’s different things that people are interpreting.
“There are some Conservative MPs very much against [taking the knee]. Why? Because Black Lives Matter stands for things that they don’t stand for. It’s really about defunding the police and the overthrow of capitalism, which is, you know, Black Lives Matter the actual political organisation.
“And some people will take it and think that’s supporting Black Lives Matter. I’m sure Black Lives Matter will think it’s supporting them.” Football’s anti-discrimination group Kick It Out says the gesture is “in no way linked to any political organisation”.
The psychologist's view: taking the knee is the players' right
By Pippa Grange, England's psychologist during 2018 Football World Cup
One of the most significant impacts of booing footballers who take a knee before matches is the dehumanising element such a divide creates between those who have paid to be entertained and those doing the entertaining.
The bigger, more globalised football has become, the more players are considered as commodities, or assets, rather than people. They are painted as ‘dumb jocks’ by people who don’t agree with their views, told to get on with their job and entertain people.This is their workplace and they have a right to individual civil comment as much as anyone else. They are people just as much as everyone in the stands.
It is very easy to forget that sometimes and think of footballers as cartoon avatars who are there purely to entertain us.
These players are already navigating the drama of being the hero or villain every week because there is so much emotion in football. It’s a fine line to walk and a big job to deal with.
Throw in people booing a stance they have chosen to make and it runs a very real risk of rejection on and off the pitch in an already volatile environment.
If they are brave enough, as a united group, to say they care about this issue it can be incredibly disillusioning to be booed from the sidelines. Not only will it send a message that the people watching them do not care about something as fundamental as racism, and players’ wellbeing when it comes to being racially abused, but there is a tone of hatred inherent in the booing.
Whenever there is an aggressive response - even if it is verbal in this situation - to people making a stand against something like racism, that carries the weight of history behind it.
The people booing don’t get to choose whether it is aggressive or not; if you boo an anti-racism protest, that is threatening.
All countries have their own reasons for taking a knee or not, but it makes me more proud of England for doing it. This is our history and our reality. Choosing to take a knee clearly means a lot to our team.
I actually think choosing to carry on in the face of some dissenters can galvanise any team.
It’s likely to make them link arms even more strongly. It’s an act that is true, real and authentic.
You can’t expect characterful football if the players are told to keep their eyes down and just do their job. You can’t expect national pride from players who are being ignored.