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Footballers taking the knee deserve our support for their stand against racism

·3-min read
The England manager, Gareth Southgate, is preparing for the opening match against Croatia (PA Wire)
The England manager, Gareth Southgate, is preparing for the opening match against Croatia (PA Wire)

This summer is set to be one of safe celebration and joy, as families and friends reunite to enjoy the sporting events taking place across the country.

The long-awaited men’s European Football Championships are now under way after a year of delay. I know I join thousands of us across the country in getting behind England and wishing the team the best of luck.

Over recent weeks, in what should have been an exciting buildup to our first game, we have seen unacceptable booing of the team during friendlies. Whether it be in football or cricket, racism will not ruin our summer.

So, as we get ready for England’s first game. Labour wants to join Gareth Southgate, players and fans in making it clear that racism will not be tolerated in football, or anywhere in society.

Ending racism has a new urgency after the Black Lives Matter movement reignited the fight for race equality last summer.

In this tournament, we have a duty on the world stage to show that England fans are united in our love for the diversity of our country and our team. Because our strength is in our diversity.

That is why it is hugely disappointing to see some fans booing the team for taking the knee in the last couple of weeks. Taking the knee is a gesture with its political and historical roots in anti-racism. It is not, as some Conservative MPs and ministers would have us believe, a symbol of radicalism or an economic statement. It is an important demonstration of solidarity and unity. It shows we are committed to ending racism, whether that be in football or anywhere else in society.

Football has been at the centre of my family for a very long time and I can clearly remember watching Euro ’96 when the tournament last came to the UK. It remains a key part of my family, with my brother playing professionally. I would be heartbroken to see him booed for simply taking a stand against racism.

The government’s condoning this behaviour is divisive and unacceptable. To see Boris Johnson and the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, Oliver Dowden, saying the England Cricket Board had gone too far in its efforts to deal with racist tweets demonstrates that they do not value what makes football so truly special in the UK and around the world.

We know that race equality isn’t radical. It’s common sense. Whether a footballer, nurse or doctor, nobody should be treated differently because of the colour of their skin or where they come from. That’s the country I know and love.

So as we gather together in the sunshine to cheer England on, let’s make this summer one of unity and celebration.

England stands against racism, against discrimination and prejudice. Let’s be proud of our players’ ambition for change as well as their ambition to win. Come on England!

Marsha de Cordova is the shadow secretary for women and equalities and the Labour MP for Battersea

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