The Football Association issued a statement calling on England fans to respect the right of players to ‘kneel down’ in protest against racial injustice, and not to boo them before European Championship matches.
England players were booed by some fans ahead of two recent friendlies when they knelt down – a manifestation borrowed from US NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and popularized by the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We encourage those who oppose this action to think about the message you are sending to the players you support,” the FA said ahead of England’s tournament opener against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.
“Please respect their wishes and remember that we must all be united in the fight against discrimination. Together. They will do their best for you. Please do your best for them.
England manager Gareth Southgate, who took part in the touchline gesture, has expressed hope that the nation will unite behind the squad during the tournament.
A YouGov poll released this week suggested that 54% of fans in England supported players “on their knees”, with 39% against.
Critics of the protest say it unduly politicizes the sport and dislikes the gesture’s ties to the organized element of Black Lives Matter, which some see as a far-left movement imported from the United States .
“The fans fully understand … they are there to watch a football game, not to be lectured on morality,” said Brendan Clarke-Smith, MP for the ruling Conservative Party.
The FA also posted a emotional plea for fans to unite behind the players in a social media video
“It’s personally important for the players and the values that the team collectively represents,” the FA statement continued.
“This is nothing new, and English football has made it clear that they do not see this as being aligned with any political organization or ideology.
“There is no doubt why the players kneel down and what that means in a football context.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Saturday he thought it was “totally wrong” to boo the England team.