The Black Lives Matter campaign led by Premier League footballers will continue into the new season, with Arsenal and Liverpool taking a knee in the FA Community Shield on Saturday.
Captains of the 20 top-tier clubs are also due to meet within days to discuss plans to maintain awareness throughout the campaign after the league indicated it will continue to allow player-led demonstrations.
Football Association officials, meanwhile, have given the players their blessing to take a stand this Saturday, and are also planning to beam anti-discrimation messages on the stadium big screens at regular intervals.
The governing body is also open to allowing England players to take the same stand when international football resumes next week, Sources understands.
Sources close to the player-led campaign said Premier League captains agreed to maintain their awareness campaigns before landmark protests in American sport, which included the NBA postpone three play-off games after the Milwaukee Bucks called off their fixture in protest at the shooting of Jacob Blake.
In an interview with Telegraph Sport, Ged Grebby, chief executive of Show Racism the Red Card, said elite players were determined to prove that demonstrations which began following the restart were not a one-off. He said there had been a willingness expressed to take part in educational programme within the game, and that letters had been sent out to clubs across the country.
“I’m 58 years old and I’ve been involved in this area since I was 16 but I’ve never known a movement like this in my life,” he said, adding that the current era in sport and beyond has the potential to be “comparable” to the American civil rights movement. “We were getting incredible support across the world,” he added. “We know about the Community Shield and that’s great. The education programme is probably the most important thing of all, however.”
Premier League captains have planned a meeting in which they will agree on action for the new season. There are no current plans to resume wearing Black Lives Matter instead of names on the back of shirts, but England’s top tier is unlikely to stand in their way if they agreed to continue to take a knee as they did during the final weeks of last season.
On Saturday’s planned protest, meanwhile, the FA said in statement: “Players in both the women’s and men’s FA Community Shield matches this weekend will take a knee before kick-off in order to show solidarity to the black community and to highlight inequality and injustice experienced by this community. The FA will continue to support any player who wishes to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking a knee.”Embed from Getty Images
Footballers’ willingness to continue the awareness campaign – which was initially sparked by protests in America at the beginning of June over the death of George Floyd – is likely to see another ripple effect in other sports.
Chris Grant, a Sport England board member and one of the most senior black sports officials in the country, told Telegraph Sport there was a “real possibility” that British teams would follow the example set by American sport after Blake, a black man, was shot seven times in the back by police on Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
In baseball, three MLB games were called off after teams decided not to play, and five MLS matches have been postponed. Tennis player Naomi Osaka pulled out of a WTA match on Thursday.
“Frankly, if I were sports bodies in this country, I would be nervous,” Grant said. “Because they’ve made promises and statements. People are going to be watching and judging what actually changes in the next few weeks and months, let alone years, and if things seem to recur that are symptoms of problems then I think athletes are emboldened not just to say what they think but to vote with their feet, as has happened in the States. So, I think it’s a real possibility that similar things could happen here.”Embed from Getty Images
English footballers had been speaking out against racism long before protests this summer. Last October, England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia was twice halted before half-time due to racist abuse directed at Tyrone Mings and Marcus Rashford. Grant said leadership shown by Gareth Southgate at the time set the tone for helping players become more emboldened to take a stand.
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“What happened with the England men’s football team last year was one of the most positive things that’s happened, simply because the way Gareth Southgate responded to that was an example of what has to happen more generally, which was a white leader – nearly all of the leaders in sport in this country are white – standing up and saying, ‘I’m drawing a line. I will protect my players’,” he added.
Sanjay Bhandari, chairman of Kick It Out, added: “In football, the key thing about the players taking a knee is that it was driven by the players themselves. They should feel free to continue to protest against racism in whatever form they feel comfortable. Social media has changed the game forever. It has given the players a powerful platform and we have a generation of young players that is unafraid to take a stand.”