FIFA World Cup 2022: why do footballers kneel?

England’s players have taken a knee ahead of all their World Cup group stage matches in Qatar.

Here’s a look at the history of the anti-racism gesture in sport:

HOW DID IT BEGIN?

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then a San Francisco 49ers player of the National Football League (NFL), declined to stand up for the US national anthem before a preseason game in 2016 and knelt in another game, sparking debate over race relations and policing, and the mingling of politics and sport.

Many NFL players later knelt with Kaepernick during the pregame performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to draw attention to what they saw as a pattern of racism in the US police’s treatment of African Americans.

Kaepernick became a free agent after that season and has not been signed by any other team since. His activism was seen by some as the reason teams were wary of signing him. The protests also drew the ire of then-US President Donald Trump, who called on the NFL to ban players who kneel during the anthem.

Players from Wales and England kneel before the start of the World Cup Group B soccer match between England and Wales at the Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar on Tuesday November 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

PROPAGATION OF THE MOVEMENT

Black Lives Matter was taken up by Premier League clubs in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

England’s top clubs wore the Black Lives Matter logo on their shirts before it was replaced by ‘No Room for Racism’. England’s men’s and women’s teams have been kneeling before games since 2020, first in solidarity with protests over Floyd’s death and then in support of equality.

Athletes from other sports have supported the movement, most notably Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka at the 2020 US Open, where she wore a mask with the name of another black American victim of police brutality ahead of her matches.

Osaka, who has a Japanese mother and Haitian father, won the title and was praised for her activism.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, the only black driver in Formula One, has also been a supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement with anti-racism gestures ahead of races.

CRITICISM OF PROTESTS

Critics of the protest, including conservative politicians, say it politicizes sport and that they dislike the gesture’s links to the organized element of Black Lives Matter, which some see as a far-left movement.

A YouGov poll published in June last year found that 54% of supporters in England were in favor of players “get on their knees”, while 39% were against.

England manager Gareth Southgate has supported and taken part in the gesture from the sidelines. He said black players need to feel solidarity after a barrage of abuse online and at some games. He said his players “made a stand for us as a team” after being booed by Hungarian fans as they got on their knees ahead of their friendly in Budapest last year. England broke their knee at last year’s European Championship.

Premier League teams decided to limit the knee to a few key games of the 2022-23 season.

WALES SUPPORT

England were assisted by Wales as he took the knee before the two teams faced off in their final Group B encounter on November 29. It was the first time at the tournament that Wales had made the gesture

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