‘An important symbol of peaceful protest’: Team GB women’s footballers call taking knee for BLM at Olympics a ‘huge opportunity’
Less than a week before their campaign begins at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, Team GB's women's football squad have insisted they intend to take full advantage of rules around protesting that will allow them to take a pre-match knee.
The contentious gesture, which has been particularly prevalent before high-profile sporting events since the killing of George Floyd in the US in May 2020, has become increasingly contentious in recent months – not least in the UK, where prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel have been criticized by members of the England men's team for appearing not to condemn fans who booed knee-taking.
Members of Team GB are evidently more determined than ever to make a show of the symbolism, starting when they play Chile on Wednesday in their opener in front of a potential worldwide TV audience of millions.
"We were all united in our decision to continue doing whatever we can to raise awareness of racism and discrimination in all its forms, standing in unity and solidarity with all those whose lives are affected," said head coach Hege Riise, who is also serving as England interim boss and won Olympic gold as part of a glittering playing career with Norway.
"We are clear that taking the knee is an important symbol of peaceful protest against discrimination, injustice and inequality in society."
The International Olympic Committee eased the rules earlier this month around athletes expressing their opinions during the showpiece, effectively encouraging individuals and teams who want to perform a gesture that many feel is divisive and politically-motivated.
"I don't think this is the time to go silent on this issue," suggested Arsenal defender Leah Williamson, referencing a row involving the Euro 2020 finalists that included Premier League star Tyrone Mings publicly blasting Patel over the issue.
But it's highlighting the issue, there will be kids out there who don't grow up to use racist slurs because the sports people they love have highlighted the issue— Guy Healy (@Guyhoneymoon) July 15, 2021
"It's just been proven the other day with the boys in England's squad. It should be something that we celebrate – the diversity that we have in Britain."
The decision received a decidedly mixed response from fans on social media. "They are failing to protect black players by insisting on taking the knee," said one, adding that the idea carried "political weight that cannot be reinterpreted." "They should find a different gesture."
Another fired back: "'Too much' political weight is how things change – and precisely what a lot of white nationalists are afraid of."
They are failing to protect black players by insisting on taking the knee. This gesture has political weight that cannot be reinterpreted . They should find a different gesture.— Kiel Robinson 🇬🇧 (@kiel_robinson) July 15, 2021
"Too much" political weight is how things change - and precisely what a lot of white nationalists are afraid of.— Marcos Perez (@MarPerRodr) July 15, 2021
Others expressed their weariness at a ritual that is regarded as empty in some quarters. "This has become virtue-signaling nonsense," argued one critic.
"What is really being done about racism? England players took the knee – did that stop the racism?"
Those views echoed the thoughts of Premier League star Wilfried Zaha, who said in a statement alongside his decision to stand while others kneel earlier this year: "There is no right or wrong decision.
When stadiums are forced to play maximum volume music to cover up the boos... you know the gesture is useless.— James (@MrJames007619) July 15, 2021
Lot of racists exposing themselves in the comments here— Jay Molloy (@jay92molloy) July 15, 2021
"But for me personally, I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse."
England's men's team made it clear that they were determined to continue kneeling despite boos being heard when they made the move at their warm-up matches prior to Euro 2020.
Three of the Three Lions squad – Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho – have been specifically targeted with racial abuse this week after missing penalties in the final, with several related arrests made.
"We know we have a big part to play," said England stalwart and Manchester City defender Demi Stokes. "It's important we use our platforms to help in any way we can.
"We all feel strongly as individuals and as a team. We all understand what's been going on around racism and discrimination. It is the people who don't have a voice that we are standing up for.
"We want to show to everyone this is something serious. It's still happening. What a way to do it: on an Olympic stage."Also on rt.com Black Lives Matter gestures given green light for Tokyo Games as Olympic chiefs confirm athletes can kneel before events are held
Riise praised the IOC for allowing athletes further freedom of expression, and Andy Anson, of the British Olympic Association, described the act of kneeling as "embodying the values of Team GB."
"With the power that the Olympics has worldwide, I think it's important that we get that message across," pointed out Chelsea goalkeeper Carly Telford.
"Unfortunately, it's not easy for people to live freely based on the color of their skin, the sex they choose to be or the people they choose to be with in life.
"It's a huge opportunity to show the world that people can be who they want."Also on rt.com Four arrested as ‘hate crime investigation’ underway related to racial abuse directed at England stars Rashford, Sancho and Saka