26 August 2022

'Taking the knee' is seen as a hollow gesture by English soccer fans, a new study finds.

English Premier League players will no longer routinely take a knee before matches; a decision that coincides with a new paper co-authored by a University of South Australia academic that shows 65 per cent of English soccer fans now oppose the anti-racism gesture.

Dropping to one knee, which started in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in 2020 and the subsequent Black Lives Matter campaign, has not translated into any real action by football clubs to combat racism, a survey has found.

More than 1000 soccer fans were invited to share their views about the symbolic gesture in a study undertaken by British academics from Teesside University, Aston University and UniSA senior lecturer in Sport and Management, Dr Jamie Cleland.

The study found that almost two thirds of fans opposed the stance, questioning its effectiveness, and labelling it as “window dressing” by clubs, disguising football’s failure to challenge racism in any meaningful way.

Dr Cleland says the reaction of English soccer fans has been perplexing, with many booing players when they now take a knee.

“Initially, after the police killings of African Americans George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in the US, soccer players aligned themselves with other sports codes around the world in taking the knee. It was seen as a powerful symbol in the fight against racial inequality,” Dr Cleland says.

“But given the lack of any real action to combat racism in the intervening time, players are now often jeered at when they routinely take the knee.

“Fans sense that the conviction that inspired the initiative has ebbed away and it’s now a hollow gesture, with players merely going through the motions.

“There is little doubt that some British soccer fans are racist and reject the Black Lives Matter movement, but many more want practical action from clubs, as opposed to a symbolic gesture, and this just hasn’t happened.”

The authors say the survey feedback revealed a suspicion among soccer fans that self-interest is driving the kneeling and, more generally, the opposition to racism.

“By positioning itself as a sport that champions diversity, lauds inclusivity and embraces universality, soccer can be a powerful force against racism. However, taking the knee has replaced practical action rather than reinforced it and fans see right through it.”

Notes to editors

The paper, ‘A little less conversation’: an exploration of soccer fan attitudes towards ‘the knee’ protest and the anti-racism message, has been published in the journal Soccer and Society. It is authored by Dr Kevin Dixon from Teesside University, Emeritus Professor Ellis Cashmore from Aston University and Dr Jamie Cleland from the University of South Australia.

For a copy of the paper please email candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au


Contact for interview:  Dr Jamie Cleland email jamie.cleland@unisa.edu.au
Media contact: Candy Gibson mobile: 0434 605 142 email: candy.gibson@unisa.edu.au


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