The anti-racism gesture of taking the knee was going to run its course and end at some point. But it is disappointing that this important action has been diluted in the Premier League this season. The change in stance agreed by the captains of PL teams is not surprising and has the feel of a compromise that probably very few of the team leaders are truly happy with, but one which they can live with going forward.
A key question to ask is what progress has been made by clubs and the football authorities since the gesture was introduced in 2020? There can be no doubt that the taking of the knee has led to conversations about racism among fans on match days.
As you would expect, there have been both positive and negative comments. This kind of engagement between fans is necessary if the issues of individual, structural and institutional racism are to be tackled.
If those who run the game or our clubs are not challenged by supporters then nothing will change. Action plans from the Premier League, English Football League and the Football Association are needed, but what are the changes that have happened in football? Have there been any of significance?
Tony Burnett, Kick It Out CEO, highlights the need for change: "We certainly need more representation when it comes to black and Asian representation in boardroom and decision-making corridors throughout our game because that's the only way things will change.
“In football management and senior leadership, we've got a system that self-replicates, where people appoint people who look like themselves."
Gestures, campaigns and t-shirts need to lead to changes in the stands, football pathways and football’scorridors of power so that people of colour can have the same leadership opportunities as their white contemporaries; undoubtedly, the skills are there.
What the PL captains are suggesting is that the taking of the knee will happen at significant moments during the season. Thus at:
- First and last PL matches of the season
- October and March at matches dedicated to the Say No To Racism campaign
- Boxing Day matches
- Carabao and FA Cup finals
Will this be enough? Time will tell. However, as mentioned above, it is important for fans to hold clubs to account, to keep asking what they have done to tackle racism, on the pitch, in the stands and within the club itself.
Organisations like the Football Supporters’ Association, Kick It Out and Show Racism the Red Card can help with this kind of fan engagement but also with highlighting the structural and institutional racism that is still so prevalent within the beautiful game.
Football needs to come together with one voice to keep the issue of racism to the fore of the minds of fans, owners, broadcasters, other media outlets, and those charged with running the game.
Taking the knee may have stopped happening at every Premier League match but the problems that exist within the game that caused footballers to use this powerful gesture have not gone away.