A knee in the groin of football

WE CANNOT deny that football has a racism problem, however much some people would like to bury their heads in the sand. It’s not the racism of old, but a more sinister, cowardly type of behaviour that flourishes on social media and allows the perpetrators the cloak of anonymity. It’s not just a football issue, the past five years have seen a rise in all kinds of bigotry, from racism to anti-semitism, homophobia to islamophobia.

Football has allowed itself to be a showcase for a lot of virtue-signalling and this does dilute the currency when it comes to adding causes and stances. However, football’s Black Lives Matter is not a cause but a reaction to events that took place in the US and the torrent of abuse that black footballers receive from social media trolls on a daily basis.

Any claims that taking a knee is not political stand lack credibility when there is a movement called Black Lives Matter that goes beyond equal rights. No matter how footballers might insist politics do not come into the process of dropping a knee before a game, the link is a little confusing.

It is hard not to agree with the sentiment of the players are demonstrating before kick-off, a largely benign gesture that, in its early stages, was a definite eye-opener. Now, this short manoeuvre is being jeered by fans, quite loudly despite the attempts of TV to reduce the noise and talk over it. It is very noticeable and is not exclusive to any one group of fans. If the past year had seen football played in front of crowds, there is no doubt the reaction would have been pretty much the same.

Why are fans doing this? Even though the jeering is not coming from a miniscule group of people, the modern football crowd, for all its crudity and robustness, is not an overwhelmingly racist body. Consider that the historic racist behaviour was very openly unpleasant, chants and objects thrown on the pitch. The fans in question didn’t care who heard it or who was offended.

Today’s racism is much more localised, which is still unacceptable and unpleasant, but nobody wants to be outed as a racist even if you are one. So in the 21st high-tech century, would fans jeer players for taking a knee with the aim of expressing a racist view when it can be so easily pinpointed by police, stewards and TV? 

It could be the fans are actually taking exception because it implies they are racist when, as we know, the vast majority of the racism aimed at players is not necessarily in the stadium but in the murky underworld of social media. This may be a case of misinterpretation. 

As in all cases of prejudice and directed abuse, if one person is offended, then there’s a problem. We have seen players like Raheem Sterling brazenly abused by fans, we have witnessed teams walk off in disgust after racism has poured from the stands and we still do not see enough black and Asian fans in our stadiums. Words are easy to write about how bad racism is, but in this case, actions really do have an effect. The campaign may have run too long, prompting some to respond, “ok, we get it”, but it’s inappropriate to dismiss the cause. Put simply, in a society that has claimed to be among the most sophisticated, most liberal-minded and multi-cultural in the world, we have all had enough of racism. Equally, it is clumsy and short-sighted for the media to say everyone jeering the dropped knee is a racist. Questions should be asked – so far, there’s been plenty of debate on TV and Radio about the jeering, but has anyone actually asked the fans what’s going on? We may find that some of the assumptions are wrong.

Photo: ALAMY

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