While Premier League soccer players will continue to take a knee to protest racism this season, they said Wednesday that the gesture would no longer take place at every game.
Players will kneel, for example, at the Premier League’s season-opening games this weekend, and again on Boxing Day (Dec. 26); during two weeks dedicated to racism awareness in October and March, on the final day of the season and before the FA Cup and League Cup Finals.
“We remain resolutely committed to eradicate racial prejudice, and to bring about an inclusive society with respect and equal opportunities for all.” the captains said in a statement released by the Premier League. The players said they believed the gesture would have more impact if performed less frequently.
Premier League players began kneeling for a few seconds after the opening whistle when matches resumed after a pandemic hiatus in June 2020. The protest coincided with Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and the aftermath of the shooting death by the police of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The gesture was inspired by the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other American athletes who had taken a knee before games or during the national anthem, and was widely adopted in leagues and sports in Europe and elsewhere. Players on dozens of teams have taken a knee before international matches, and women’s squads — though not all of them — did the same during the recently completed Euro 2022 women’s championship that ended on Sunday.
Premier League players continued to kneel before every game, and players at many games in lower-tier leagues in England have done the same.
The gesture brought praise in some quarters. “I feel the power every time the players drop down and show solidarity,” said Troy Townsend, the head of development at Kick It Out, a nonprofit organization that promotes equality and inclusion in soccer. But a few Black players dismissed it as a mostly empty gesture that did little to bring real change. Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, who grew up in England but plays for Ivory Coast’s national team, stopped kneeling in early 2021. He said the protest “has just become a part of the prematch routine.”
The kneeling occasionally drew boos, both in England and more frequently when English teams traveled abroad. England fans were jeered by some of their own supporters before games leading to last summer’s European Championship.
And in June, when the England players knelt before a game in Hungary, they were jeered by a crowd largely made up of children under 14; Most adults were banned because of racist chanting by Hungary fans at earlier games.
The kneeling was not universal, either. Many teams from other nations did not kneel before games, making for a sometimes incongruous sight at Champions League and international matches: the players from English teams and clubs on one knee before kickoff, while their opponents stood only yards away, waiting for them to rise. so the game could begin.