Boris Johnson has told England fans not to boo the team for taking the knee during the European Championship.
In his first public comments on the jeering of Three Lions players for performing the gesture, the Prime Minister also said he supported the squad’s stance on it.
Downing Street on Monday refused to condemn England fans for booing players for taking the knee, but on Friday stated that Johnson was opposed to the jeering that threatens to overshadow Euro 2020.
Johnson told Channel 5: “What I certainly don’t think you should do is boo the England team. Cheer the England team, cheer the Scotland team, the Welsh team.”
Asked whether he condemned those who booed, he replied: “I disapprove of people booing the England team. I see no reason to do that.”
Johnson said he supported England’s players, who have insisted their taking of the knee was to promote racial equality and was not an endorsement of some of the more radical policies to have emerged out of the Black Lives Matter movement.
But the Prime Minister added that he was “more on the side of practical action to combat racism and make life better for everybody in this country” than in favour of “gestures and symbols”.
Johnson’s comments came after Scotland performed an about-turn over taking the knee and agreed to make the gesture “in solidarity” with England before the sides meet at Wembley on Friday.
Steve Clarke’s team stopped performing the pre-match ritual in March amid concerns it had become “diluted” and, although they will instead “stand against racism” in their other group matches at Hampden Park, they will kneel with England at Wembley.
It followed communication between the Scotland and England players. The Scotland captain, Andrew Robertson, is a Liverpool team-mate of England vice-captain Jordan Henderson.
The psychologist’s view: taking the knee is the players’ right
By Pippa Grange, England’s psychologist during 2018 Football World Cup
One of the most significant impacts of booing footballers who take a knee before matches is the dehumanising element such a divide creates between those who have paid to be entertained and those doing the entertaining.
The bigger and more globalised football has become, the more players are considered as commodities, or assets, rather than people. They are painted as ‘dumb jocks’ by people who don’t agree with their views, told to get on with their job and entertain people.This is their workplace and they have a right to individual civil comment as much as anyone else. They are people just as much as everyone in the stands.
It is very easy to forget that sometimes and think of footballers as cartoon avatars who are there purely to entertain us.
These players are already navigating the drama of being the hero or villain every week because there is so much emotion in football. It’s a fine line to walk and a big job to deal with.
Throw in people booing a stance they have chosen to make and it runs a very real risk of rejection on and off the pitch in an already volatile environment.
If they are brave enough, as a united group, to say they care about this issue it can be incredibly disillusioning to be booed from the sidelines. Not only will it send a message that the people watching them do not care about something as fundamental as racism, and players’ wellbeing when it comes to being racially abused, but there is a tone of hatred inherent in the booing.
Whenever there is an aggressive response – even if it is verbal in this situation – to people making a stand against something like racism, that carries the weight of history behind it.
The people booing don’t get to choose whether it is aggressive or not; if you boo a racism protest, that is threatening.
All countries have their own reasons for taking a knee or not, but it makes me more proud of England for doing it. This is our history and our reality. Choosing to take a knee clearly means a lot to our team.
I actually think choosing to carry on in the face of some dissenters can galvanise any team.
It’s likely to make them link arms even more strongly. It’s an act that is true, real and authentic.
You can’t expect characterful football if the players are told to keep their eyes down and just do their job. You can’t expect national pride from players who are being ignored.