Europe split on knee in EURO 2020 football tournament
Footballers are often derided for diving during matches in an attempt to trick the referee into awarding him a free kick or penalty.
But, as EURO 2020 kicks off on Friday, some are hoping that not keeping their feet on their two feet will earn them new respect.
A handful of teams appear ready to kneel before games in support of racial justice.
The gesture began five years ago when American football star Colin Kaepernick began to kneel down to point out racism. It spread to Europe following the police murder of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.
So what did the European teams say when they got down on their knees at EURO 2020?
England manager Gareth Southgate said his players were “more determined than ever” to keep kneeling.
Their anti-racist gesture drew boos – and some applause – from England fans in recent matches against Austria and Romania.
“We feel more determined than ever to take the knee to the ground throughout this tournament,” said Southgate. “We accept that there may be an adverse reaction, but we’ll just ignore it and move on.”
Defenseman Luke Shaw also backed the move.
“We all agree that it was the right thing to keep taking the knee,” he said. “It’s that simple. We will continue to do it and we believe in it. We will not stop.”
Croatia, opponents of England in Group D of the tournament, have decided not to kneel, as the recent friendly with Belgium showed.
“The Croatian Football Federation and the Croatian National Team strongly condemn all forms of discrimination. We also respect the right of every individual and every organization to choose the circumstances and how they will take a stand against racism and / or against racism. other forms of discrimination, “the federation said in a statement to Euronews.
“The Croatian Football Federation believes that players have the right to have their own opinion on these matters and that they also have the right to choose whether they wish to engage in an activity. The players of the national team Croatians jointly decided before the friendly match against Belgium that they will not kneel, and they were respectfully silent while their Belgian colleagues kneeled.
“The Croatian Football Federation respects its position on this matter and will not impose kneeling down as an obligation for Croatian players, as this gesture has no symbolic link with the fight against racism and discrimination in the context of Croatian culture and tradition.
“In general, we think the most important thing is that Croatian internationals have behaved with respect throughout their careers and have shown by their behavior that they respect all individuals, opponents and teammates. , regardless of race, religion, social status, ethnic origin or any other characteristic, which is a value also promoted by the Croatian Football Federation. “
Scotland, also in Group D, are against kneeling, believing the move does not bring significant change.
But, in solidarity with their neighbors and English rivals, they will kneel before the duo face off at Wembley on June 18.
“I explained in March the rationale for the team’s decision [not to take the knee]: Not only is this consistent with the collective Scottish football approach above, but the purpose of taking the knee, raising awareness and helping to eradicate racism in football and society, has been diluted and undermined by continued abuse of players “, said head coach Steve Clarke.
Scotland captain Andy Robertson said: “In Scotland the football family has been opposed to racism all season. We believed the national team would do the same.
“Our position is that everyone – players, supporters, teams, clubs, federations, governing bodies and governments must do more. Meaningful actions are needed for meaningful change to occur.”
Earlier this year, Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela was accused of racially abusing a Scottish Rangers player.
In the aftermath of this controversy, the Czech federation clarified his position by taking the knee.
“The management of the Czech national football team and the Football Association of the Czech Republic want to jointly announce that the national team will take a neutral and apolitical stance on certain issues that resonate in the sporting environment. Black Lives Matter (BLM), an initiative in which some players kneel before football matches.
“To express support for the fight against racism and other manifestations of discrimination, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, the Czech national team will display the UEFA Respect inscription on the left sleeve of their shirts, referencing the campaign of the same name, ahead of the game in Wales [on March 30, 2021]. “
French players, including Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, have been pictured kneeling ahead of a recent friendly with Wales.
However, it is not known what they will do at EURO 2020. The French football federation did not respond to requests for clarification from Euronews.
The Belgian players, including Inter Milan star Romelu Lukaku, were pictured kneeling ahead of a EURO 2020 warm-up game against Greece.
The Hungarian Football Association (MLSZ) issued a statement earlier this month: “UEFA and FIFA rules do not allow any policies on the pitch and in the stadium, and the MLSZ not only l ‘accepts but also agrees. The national team will not kneel down matches to express that they condemn any form of hatred. “
During a recent friendly with the Republic of Ireland in Budapest – one of the stadiums of EURO 2020 – fans are said to have booed the Irish players for kneeling.
Irish coach Stephen Kenny called the boos “incomprehensible” and “damaging” to Hungary’s reputation.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, weighing in on the issue, defended local supporters in Budapest, saying that the fight against racism “has no place on a sports ground”.
“It is not a solution” to bring such a moral and historical “burden” to a country like Hungary which “has never been concerned with the slave trade”, he declared.
“If you are invited to a country, make an effort to understand its culture and do not provoke the locals,” he added.
The Austrian players joined the English by dropping a knee during the recent friendly between the two, although it is not clear whether the team will continue the gesture during the tournament.
Their players knelt before a recent friendly with Albania but the Welsh Football Association, contacted by Euronews, did not respond to requests for clarification of intentions at the next tournament.
What does UEFA say?
UEFA has said it is helping players get to their knees and urged fans to support teams in doing so.
“UEFA has zero tolerance against racism and any player who wants to demand equality between human beings by taking the knee will be allowed to do so,” a spokesperson told Euronews. “We urge spectators to show respect to teams and players who kneel down.”