10 June 2021

Footballers taking the knee is symbolism more than action, says minister

10 June 2021

England footballers taking the knee before matches is “creating new divisions” and is “symbolism more than action”, a Government minister has said.

Players were met with boos by some fans when performing the gesture, which is done to reinforce the message that racism and discrimination will not be tolerated, at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough prior to the friendly matches against Austria and Romania last week.

Downing Street has not condemned the jeers but urged fans to be “respectful” and said Boris Johnson “wants the whole country to get behind them” in the Euros.

While England boss Gareth Southgate has said the players will continue to make the gesture in future matches.

If you want to say, do I think it's symbolism more than action? Of course it is. Of course it is.

Appearing on the BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday, education minister Gillian Keegan was asked about the stance and she said that “what’s happening here is this in itself is actually being more divisive, it’s creating new divisions”.

Ms Keegan said “people have to make their own decisions” when deciding whether to take the knee or not.

But when pushed she said: “Actually what we’ve ended up with, whether it’s for statues, whether it’s the Queen’s picture, whether it’s taking the knee, we’ve ended up with these things being things that kind of divide us and actually, united societies are what solve these big issues.”

She added: “It’s not my judgment to say whether they should take the knee or not. They’re perfectly free to do what they want. If you want to say, do I think it’s symbolism more than action? Of course it is. Of course it is. As Frank says, there’s a symbol about it, but the most important thing is the action. But we’ve seen it’s creating division.

“And by the way, the people who are booing, I’m pretty sure most of them would like to end racism as well. They disagree. There’s a lot of things that have been, you know, there’s different things that people are interpreting.

“There are some Conservative MPs (that) are very much against it, why? Because Black Lives Matter stand for things that they don’t stand for. It’s really about defunding the police and the overthrow of capitalism, which is, you know, Black Lives Matter the actual political organisation.

“And some people will take it and think that’s supporting Black Lives Matter. I’m sure Black Lives Matter will think it’s supporting them.”

Critics of taking the knee say the gesture has political overtones but anti-discrimination group Kick It Out, the Football Supporters’ Association and England fans group Block 109 have called on fans to show their support to the team.

Kick It Out chief executive Tony Burnett said: “Gareth Southgate and the England players have made their position really clear – they are taking the knee as an anti-discrimination gesture, it is in no way linked to any political organisation.”

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