Taking the knee: Black Lives Matter a ‘political movement’, says minister amid football booing row

A cabinet minister has waded into the row over Millwall fans booing footballers who took the knee, describing Black Lives Matter as a “political movement” with different aims from the majority of people who support racial equality.

George Eustice declined to condemn the booing when played a recording during a televised interview.

But he said racism should be “called out and challenged”, adding that the ways in which people choose to express their views on the issue “should always be respected”.

His comments appeared to indicate sympathy with fans who complain the game has been hijacked for political purposes, and stood in stark contrast with the swift condemnation of the booing by the Football Association.

Since the resumption of professional football matches in June, players in the Premier League and Championship have consistently gone down on one knee before kick-off to mark solidarity with victims of racial injustice in the wake of the unlawful killing of George Floyd in the US.

The Premier League dropped the Black Lives Matter logo from players’ shirts in September, replacing it with the in-house No Room for Racism badge.

But the ritual of taking the knee has continued, including at Millwall’s Championship tie with Derby County on Saturday, when some of the 2,000-strong crowd loudly booed the gesture.

It was the first day on which fans were allowed to attend matches since the start of the coronavirus lockdown in March.

Mr Eustice told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “My personal view is that Black Lives Matter – capital B, L and M – is actually a political movement that is that is different to what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality.

“But each individual can take their own choices about how they reflect this and I know a number of people feel quite strongly and have taken that approach.”

After being played a recording of the boos, the minister added: “There have been problems obviously with racism in football in the past. It is right that’s called out and challenged when we see it. It doesn’t have any place in society today.

“And if people choose to express their view in a particular way that should always be respected.”

Following the booing incident, the FA issued a statement to say it “supports all players and staff who wish to take a stand against discrimination in a respectful manner, which includes taking of the knee, and strongly condemns the behaviours of any spectators that actively voice their opposition to such activities”.

Derby striker Colin Kazim-Richards, who stood with a raised fist when other players were taking a knee, described the booing as “an absolute disgrace”. 

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