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Political Statements In Football Should Be Limited?

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On-field political statements should be limited – Opinion

 

Images of the death of George Floyd while in the custody of a police officer who once swore to “protect and serve” shocked people all over the world. Subsequent protests have resulted in the FBI investigations which have already produced meaningful results such as “Brianna’s Law” being passed in Milwaukee, USA. However, as a number of these protests have turned violent due to the antics of a small minority, it can be considered that other means of combating the issue are needed.

As a result, football, as an industry, now has the opportunity to be at the forefront of initiating change in society. In the absence of meaningful action from the leaders of the game (at the time of writing), individual clubs, players and broadcasters have been taking the opportunity to take a stand and send their own message on the subject. Sky has pledged £30m to fight racial injustice and has promised to invest more in diversity and inclusion. Borussia Dortmund and England winger Jadon Sancho, upon scoring the first goal of his maiden career hat-trick, showed off an undershirt emblazoned with the slogan “Justice for George Floyd.”

Furthermore, clubs including Premier League champions-elect Liverpool and Newcastle United have shared images from their training sessions in which they knelt in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter group, akin to NFL player Colin Kaepernick’s demonstration in 2016. Many others joined celebrities from industries by blacking out their social media profile pictures.

 

Social Media could be the key

Based on recently-published figures by the CIES Football Observatory, eight of the ten most valuable players in the world are black or of ethnic minorities. The six of these that play in the Premier League have a social media following of over 100 million people (between Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), already higher than the average worldwide audience of a Premier League match. When taking the rest of the league’s players’ following into account, and the potential online exposure totalling billions of people, it cannot be questioned that social media has the ability to send a stronger collective message across the world than any demonstration that takes place during a live broadcast. Not just to football fans, but also to governing bodies and even entire governments.

Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling appeared on Newsnight to air his opinions on, amongst other issues, the BLM protests and took the opportunity to highlight how only a third of Premier League players are black and how black men and women are poorly represented within the football hierarchy. Such is his high profile, his admirable stance has already reached millions of people around the world. The strength of his arguments adds serious weight to what has already been demonstrated across the country and is highly likely to result in some form of change further down the line.

These sorts of messages are likely to exert some form of change – but it shouldn’t become something that becomes a distraction from the matches themselves.

Football is a sport in which two groups of highly-tuned athletes compete in the most participated sport in the world for the gratitude of mostly working-class people who often schedule their lives around Saturday afternoons. It has the power to induce a wide range of emotions from even the most hardened of person. For 90 minutes a week, a person can forget every stress and strain of everyday life and transport themselves to an alternate reality in which nothing else matters but their team winning a football match. It is not a sport in which a spectator or viewer wishes to be partied to political statements or ideology every half an hour. They will stand for a minute’s silence (or applause), they will even donate what they can financially to a cause. But it’s heart, football is a sport and not a political toy.

Kick it Out has suggested “taking a knee” before matches, which is admirable in its intent but how long before such a directive becomes a “new normal” and part of a routine that looks and feels forced upon the players? It could possibly sends a stronger message to do it just once before each club’s first fixture upon their return next week. This wouldn’t be a case of “we’ve done our bit, now we’re moving on” but rather “our message is strong, the matter remains in our thoughts but change can occurs in the boardrooms and the offices.”

Surely it would be more productive for Kick it Out to liaise with the FA, Premier League and EFL and come up with long-term joint initiatives in which real change can occur – logos on shirts becoming mandatory to increase exposure, tangible policy change (the Rooney Rule extending to the Premier League for example), inclusivity incentives. The most watched league in the world showcasing a partnership with an organisation devoted to removing racism from the game…a promising first step.

In short, let the players highlight whatever issues they want to in their own time and in their own way, be it joining in peaceful protests, sending video messages to their followers or however else they choose. Let the governing bodies, from individual FAs right up to FIFA – whose responsibility it is to take control of how football is presented – take the big steps required to tackle racism based upon how strongly footballers, and indeed the general public, have presented themselves. But when the whistle blows, let’s keep the beautiful game…the beautiful game.

 

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Working as a matchday data statistician and editor for Newport City Radio, I can't get enough of football. Dedicated to bringing fresh perspective and passionate opinion on the hot topics, I love hearing what the fans have to say. While a general follower of all sports, my alternate real loves are for Speedway and Tenpin Bowling. Follow me on @DanielFrazer7 on Twitter to chat all things sport!

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