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The Football Association has called for unity before the start of England’s Euro 2020 campaign and urged supporters not to boo the team for taking the knee before their game against Croatia at Wembley this afternoon.
The row over the anti-racism gesture has overshadowed England’s preparations for the tournament and there are fears of further unrest when Gareth Southgate’s side open their campaign. A loud minority of supporters booed before friendlies against Austria and Romania in Middlesbrough, and the heated nature of the dispute moved the FA to appeal for the fans to come together.
“As the team has reiterated many times, they will collectively take the knee ahead of their fixtures during the tournament,” English football’s governing body said. “They are doing this as a mechanism of peacefully protesting against discrimination, injustice and inequality. This is personally important to the players and the values the team collectively represents.
“This gesture of unity and fighting against inequality can be traced back as far as the 18th century. It is not new, and English football has made it very clear that it does not view this as being aligned to a political organisation or ideology. There can be no doubt as to why the players are taking the knee and what it represents in a footballing context.
“We encourage those that oppose this action to reflect on the message you are sending to the players you are supporting. Please respect their wishes and remember that we should all be united in the fight to tackle discrimination. Together. They will do their best for you. Please do your best for them.”
The FA ,which also released a video focusing on the power of unity in the stands, supports the team’s determination to keep taking the knee. Southgate has said the booing feels like an attack on England’s black players and Jordan Henderson, the vice-captain, believes that the negative response shows that racism remains a problem in society.
There is a growing weariness within the 26-man squad about having to defend their anti-racism stance. England’s players have rejected the idea the gesture is a political act and were surprised to hear themselves booed by a section of their own fans. The fear is that the row will hurt England’s focus as they attempt to become European champions for the first time. The debate has even drawn attention from outside the sport, with Keir Starmer accusing Boris Johnson of undermining the team with his reluctance to condemn the booing last week.
“He didn’t have the courage to side with the players,” the Labour leader said. “Compare and contrast him and Gareth Southgate on this. He didn’t have the courage to stand by the England team and he’s wrong about that, and that’s a failure of leadership.”
No 10 moderated its view on Friday. Asked if Johnson condemned fans booing, his spokesperson said: “The PM has spoken before about his desire for everybody to get behind the national team. The PM would like to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on – not boo.”