More football fans in Europe – including England, Scotland and Wales – are supportive of kneeling players than against, but they are divided over the importance of the gesture in the fight against racism, according to a major survey.
Poll company YouGov shared with Sky Sports News the results of a study of 4,500 football fans in nine countries in March of this year, during the football season.
Most nations and groups had more fans supporting the kneeling players, with opposition mostly coming from a vocal minority.
Fans were asked: In some countries, professional footballers and staff have chosen to kneel down at the start of each match to show their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Would you support or oppose professional players and staff in your country kneeling before every match in this way?
In England, According to a survey of 547 football fans, 54% said they supported players and staff getting down on their knees to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Half of those people (27 percent) said they supported it strongly, the other half approved of it somewhat.
Some 39 percent of football fans in England said they objected to players putting down on one knee while seven percent said they didn’t know. Over the past fortnight, England players have been booed by some of their own fans in their last two Euro 2020 warm-up matches at Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough.
In Scotland 49% said they supported players who kneel, with 42% against according to a poll conducted in late February of 352 football fans. In Wales, out of a sample of 308 football fans, 53% said they supported the gesture and 37% opposed it.
YouGov also spoke to a sample of nearly 200 football supporters of various ethnicities in Britain. Of those fans, 78 percent said they supported it, 12 percent didn’t, with 10 percent saying they didn’t know.
There were also high levels of fan support in some European countries. Portugal had the highest with 79 percent, followed by Italy (73 percent) and Spain (71 percent). Only the Netherlands had less support and more opposition with 44% in favor and 45% not supporting the movement.
League players, officials and staff knelt before games kick off when football resumed after Restarting the project last summer, even if some clubs chose to stop during the season.
The gesture was seen around the world in protests following the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Black Lives Matter slogan was present on the shirts of the Premier League players when the 2019-2020 season resumed and was later replaced by a patch with the words No room for racism which was the Premier League’s own anti-racist initiative.
How important is the gesture in the fight against racism?
Asked specifically about kneeling, only 37 percent of football fans England thought the gesture was important in fighting racism. Of that sample, just over a quarter thought it was very important, the rest considered it somewhat important.
However, 57 percent of football fans in England didn’t think it was important when it came to tackling racism, with just over a third (34%) believing it wasn’t important at all.
In Scotland, 36% of fans thought it was important, while 57% didn’t – the same percentage as fans in England. In Wales, opinions were a little more divided, with 41% considering it important and 53% believing it not.
The results were different when examining football fans of various ethnic backgrounds in Britain. 61 percent thought it was important. However, almost a third (32%) did not think it was important to fight racism.
A larger percentage of fans in European countries felt it was important to kneel down to fight racism. The highest number is entered Portugal with 76 percent, with 66 percent in Spain and 54 percent of fans of Italy sharing the same point of view.
48 percent of football fans in Germany and France thought it was important, which was a higher proportion than the original nations. 42 percent disagreed Germany, while the figure was 43 percent in France.
Why do the players kneel?
Football fans across Europe tend to be familiar with the feeling of kneeling down, but nowhere as much as the home countries. This also included 88 percent of football fans in Britain of diverse ethnicity.
Among individual countries, 92 percent of fans of Wales say they know the reasons for kneeling, more than any other European country. This is followed by 90 percent in England and 88 percent of supporters Scotland.
Among the continental European fans surveyed, those of France (69%), the Netherlands (69%), and Spain (69%) are the most likely to know why the gesture is used.
Taking a knee became widely known in the sport when NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick used it in the 2016 national anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality.
It has become widely adopted in sports, and politicians, protesters and police have knelt across the world to show their commitment to tackling racial inequality.
Aston Villa and England defender Tyrone Mings believes that getting down on his knees, especially in England’s top flight, has been key to keeping broader conversations about racism on the agenda.
“The Premier League is supporting her and that allows other doors and other conversations to be opened and a little more fluid,” Mings said. Sky Sports News last month.
“I think if we had dropped to one knee for a game last year and stopped, I’m not sure we would have seen the number of conversations we’ve seen about online abuse, the racism and discrimination in any form during the past 12 months.
“I think it would be another ‘wearing a t-shirt for a weekend’ and waiting for that same day the following year. I don’t think it would have gained momentum if we hadn’t continued to take the knee.
“I think [sometimes] people who are frustrated with it see it as a simple gesture we make before a game and may not understand how and how influential we can be with the actions we take. “
Newly promoted Brentford stopped kneeling last season as they believed the move “had no more impact”. QPR director of football Les Ferdinand said the message behind the gesture was lost when he defended his team’s decision to stop kneeling in September.
Virtually every Premier League player knelt last season, with Crystal Palace striker Wilfried Zaha becoming a notable exception when he became the first player to refrain from the gesture and stand up. This took place ahead of the kick-off of Crystal Palace’s 1-0 win over West Brom in March. He continued to stand for the remainder of the season while all the other players in the English Premier League continued to kneel.
Speaking in February, Zaha said it was “degrading” and encouraged players to “stand up” in defiance of racism. After deciding to show up the following month, Zaha released a statement.
“There is no right or wrong decision but for me personally I think kneeling has become part of the pre-game routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stay standing, some of us continue to be abused, we read.
“I also fully respect my teammates and players from other clubs who continue to kneel down.”
You can read the full survey results on the YouGov website.
Kick It Out signals racism
Online Report Form | Clear it
Kick It Out is the organization of football for equality and inclusion – working across the football, education and community sectors to fight discrimination, encourage inclusive practices and campaign for positive change .