While Premier League football players will continue to take a knee in protest against racism this season, they said on Wednesday the gesture would no longer take place every game.
Players will kneel, for example, in the Premier League’s season openers this weekend; Boxing Day (December 26); for two weeks dedicated to racism awareness in October and March; the last day of the season; and ahead of the FA Cup and League Cup finals.
“We remain strongly committed to eradicating racial prejudice and creating an inclusive society with respect and equal opportunity for all,” the team captains said in a statement released by the Premier League. Players said they thought the gesture would have more impact if performed less frequently.
Premier League players began kneeling for seconds after the opening whistle when games resumed following a pandemic hiatus in June 2020. The protest coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in the US and the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The gesture was inspired by former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other American athletes who knelt before games or during the national anthem, and was widely adopted across leagues and sports in Europe and elsewhere. Players from dozens of teams took a knee before international matches, and women’s teams – but not all – did the same in the recently completed Euro 2022 championship.
Premier League players had continued to kneel before every game, and players in many games in lower-tier leagues in England did the same.
The gesture drew praise in some quarters. “I feel the power every time players give up and show solidarity,” said Troy Townsend, head of development at Kick It Out, a nonprofit that promotes equality and inclusion in football. . But a few black players dismissed it as a mostly empty gesture that did little to bring about real change. Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, who grew up in England but plays for the Ivory Coast national team, stopped kneeling at the start of 2021. He said the protest “is just part of the routine of pre-game”.
The kneeling has occasionally drawn boos, both in England and more frequently when English teams have traveled abroad. England fans were mocked by some of their own supporters ahead of games leading up to last summer’s European Championship.
And in June, when the England players took a knee before a match in Hungary, they were laughed at by a crowd largely made up of children under 14; most adults were banned because of racist chants from Hungarian fans in previous matches.
Kneeling was also not universal. Many teams from other nations did not kneel before games, which sometimes makes for an incongruous sight in the Champions League and at international matches: players from English teams and clubs on one knee before kick-off, while their opponents stood only a few feet away, waiting for them to get up. the game can begin.