English football still divided on taking a knee amid concerns the gesture is no longer having an impact in fight against racism with 16 out of 36 games across top four divisions failing to show support on Saturday
- The once near-universally adopted gesture has started to be questioned
- Marseille and Krasnodar players were among those to remain standing
- Premier League sides have kept it but some Football League clubs are stopping
English football remains divided over whether taking the knee is having the desired impact in the fight against racism.
Players are demanding more is done to tackle discrimination while anti-racism organisation Kick It Out told The Mail on Sunday that the FA’s new Football Leadership Diversity Code shows that the ‘message that it is time for action is being heard’.
Yet it comes amid concerns the pre-match ritual of players taking the knee is no longer driving home that message both in England and across Europe.
There are growing concerns that taking a knee is no longer a useful tool to fight racism
Manchester City knelt in clash against Marseille but opponents failed to observe the gesture
Sixteen of the 36 games in England’s top four divisions on Saturday saw players not take the knee before kick-off. All players took the knee in the three Premier League fixtures while all-but two of the 11 Championship matches saw both teams do so.
Nottingham Forest took the knee but their opponents Middlesbrough did not while there was further confusion at QPR where only three Rangers players made the gesture and Cardiff saw most of theirs do so but others refrain.
QPR attracted criticism when they refused to take the knee against Coventry last month, after which club director Les Ferdinand said he felt the impact had been ‘diluted’.
The decision to take the knee before matches was met with unified acceptance during Project Restart following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May.
Premier League players decided to continue the protest for the new season and all matches so far have seen clubs unanimously take the knee before kick-off.
In Europe, it is a different matter. In the latest round of matches, it was only games involving English clubs that saw teams protest.
Les Ferdinand has already spoken out about his beliefs that that gesture has become ‘diluted’
Chelsea and Man City took the knee ahead of both their Champions League group matches so far, while Chelsea’s opponents Krasnodar were criticised when only four of their players did so.
Marseille’s players stood side-by-side as City’s players took the knee before their game, though the French side later tweeted out: ‘Olympique de Marseille is the club of anti-racism. The players join the approach of the Manchester City players, demonstrating unity and respect for this fight.’
Liverpool have not done so in their matches against Ajax or Midtjylland, the latter at Anfield, while Manchester United did so at home to RB Leipzig, but neither United nor Paris Saint-Germain did so at the Parc des Princes.
United say they remain committed to the campaign against racism symbolised by taking the knee and it is understood the question of whether to do so or not in France was not discussed, believed to be due to the gesture not being a regular occurrence there.
‘As long as the players wish to take the knee, the club is absolutely supportive of that,’ a United spokesman told The Mail on Sunday. A UEFA spokesman added: ‘UEFA has a zero tolerance against racism and any player who wants to take the knee to demand equality amongst human beings, is allowed to do so in our competitions.
‘It is the individual decision of each player and we fully respect their choice.’
Chelsea’s Champions League opponents Krasnodar in midweek did not all take the knee
While there are concerns over the impact of taking the knee, clubs have shown their desire for change as over 40 have signed up to the FA’s new Football Leadership Diversity Code, which aims to tackle racial and gender inequality across the game.
At present, only five managers of the 92 English league clubs are BAME. The code sees clubs agree to that 25 per cent of new coaching appointments will be BAME as well as 15 per cent of new executive appointments.
Sanjay Bhandari, the chairman of Kick It Out said: ‘We believe that players should feel free to choose whatever gestures, symbols or actions they feel comfortable with to take a stand against discrimination.
‘We should not be policing those choices. We should be talking about the reasons for them and the underlying desire for greater equality.
‘The fact that 40 clubs signed up this week to the Football Leadership Diversity Code shows that the message that it is time for action is being heard by those with the power to create change.
‘The code is potentially transformative of how people get in, stay in and get on in the football industry. We need to focus on expanding the adoption of the code then holding football to those promises.’