Leading anti-racism campaigner urges Premier League stars to protest against racial injustice

One of football’s leading anti-racism campaigners has urged Premier League stars to protest against racial injustice by ‘taking the knee’ before Premier League games this season.

England star Jadon Sancho, who wore a ‘No Justice, No Peace’ T-shirt in the warm-up on Saturday, joined his Borussia Dortmund team-mates and opponents Hertha Berlin in kneeling in the centre circle before the start of their Bundesliga fixture in the wake of the death of African-Amercian man George Floyd while in police custody.

And Troy Townsend, head of development at anti-racism group Kick it Out, said he hoped Premier League teams would do the same.

Townsend, who is the father of England and Crystal Palace winger Andros, speaking in a personal capacity, said: ‘I don’t think it needs a written statement to that effect but I do think if Premier League players are empowered and they want to do it, just let them do it.

‘Let them have the moment. Let the captains speak about it before the game, the referee acknowledge it and get it done.

‘What Dortmund and Hertha Berlin did is a powerful message and, once it’s seen around the world when the cameras are rolling, everyone is going to see the stance.’

Liverpool, Chelsea, Newcastle and Leicester have already released pictures of their squads kneeling in solidarity with those protesting against racial injustice.

Townsend, who has criticised English football, UEFA and FIFA in the past for their own inadequacies on racism, said: ‘Most people have looked at organisations which have shown their own racial bias and the words and actions haven’t gone down well with me or other sportspeople.

‘There’s institutional stuff we need to unpick of the history of how black players and sports stars have been treated for making a stand and doing the right thing.’

He also criticised the Deutsche Fussball Liga, the governing body of the Bundesliga, for fining Sancho €10,000 last week after he failed to wear a face mask while having a haircut in breach of the league’s coronavirus protocols.

The move came after the DFL had investigated Sancho for displaying a T-shirt saying ‘Justice for George Floyd’ after scoring against Paderborn last week but had decided not to sanction him and other players.

Townsend said: ‘If they can’t get you one way, they’ll get you another way. While I fully appreciate what is happening with the virus, this just seems a way of getting him.

‘You wanted to sanction him, didn’t you? That’s the reason you investigated him. It kind of feels like: ‘How can you sanction him under the circumstances? But we’ll definitely get him on something else.’ People will say: ‘Oh come on now! Don’t bring that up.’ But you have to realise the underlying things that have happened in the past.

‘People seem to have got away with something and then are reprimanded for something else.

‘We’ve seen that unconscious bias quite a lot in the industry. I feel it’s prevalent in this case as well. I can understand his anger but there will be a divide where there will be people who fully get it and understand it and there will be people questioning: ‘Why are you are angry about that, because he’s broken the rules?’

‘Taking the knee’ was pioneered by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, who would kneel during the pre-match anthem as a protest against racism.

He was unable to secure a new club once he became a free agent in 2017. At the same time, President Donald Trump urged NFL owners to discipline anyone who disrespected the national anthem, saying they should ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now… out. He’s fired.’

Kaepernick subsequently reached a legal settlement with the NFL after alleging that there has been collusion among owners, many of whom are Trump donors, including Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, Manchester United vice-chairman Ed Glazer and Fulham owner Shahid Khan.

In an astonishing U-turn on Friday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he had been wrong in 2016 and that players would be encouraged to speak out and protest peacefully, though failed to apologise to Kaepernick.

Townsend said: ‘What was messaged by Roger Goodell and the NFL… these things have to come from the heart.

‘These aren’t things you can type down and read from the statement.

‘There is a hurt going around and that means people just aren’t having any more of these dribbled statements, setting up the camera and being all polished.’



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