Soccer fans reject taking the knee gesture as it doesn’t combat racism

Dr Jamie Cleland, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Management at UniSA

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% of English soccer fans now oppose the anti-racism gesture.

What were the findings of the study?

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 clubs to combat racism, a survey has found. Over 1000 soccer fans were invited to share their views about the symbolic gesture in a study by British academics from Teesside University, Aston University and UniSA senior lecturer in Sport and Management, Dr Jamie Cleland.

The research found that almost two thirds of soccer 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 Jamie Cleland says the reaction of English soccer fans has been perplexing, with many booing players when they now take a knee.

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.

What were the executive’s thoughts on the findings?

“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, players are now often jeered at when they 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, as opposed to a symbolic gesture.”

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