Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office said that he respects the right of people to peacefully protest following the England football team taking the knee ahead of a Euro 2020 warm-up game last week.
The tournament, originally scheduled for last year, was postponed for a year due to restriction measures during the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic.
England’s players took a knee ahead of the first warm-up game against Austria at the Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough on June 1. Loud boos were heard among some 7,000 fans, but they were quickly drowned out by applause.
A similar incident happened in December 2020, when around 2,000 fans of Millwall F.C. booed players who took a knee at the start of a game against Derby County F.C.
Asked whether the prime minister believed that taking a knee showed support for the political aims of the Black Lives Matter movement, his spokesman said Johnson had commented on the issue before.
“On taking the knee, specifically, the prime minister is more focused on action rather than gestures. We have taken action with things like the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities and that’s what he’s focused on delivering,” he said.
The spokesman also said that Johnson “fully respects the right of people in this country to peacefully protest and make their feelings known about injustices.”
Asked whether the prime minister was refusing to criticise supporters who boo the gesture, the spokesman said, “No… the prime minister is supporting the England football team and wants them to succeed and he wants the whole country to get behind them in that endeavour in this tournament.”
After the incident last week, England’s team manager Gareth Southgate said the booing wasn’t something he wanted to hear because it felt like a criticism of the team’s black players, and the gesture wasn’t a political stand but a supportive gesture of each other.
Lee Anderson, MP for Ashfield, said in a Facebook post on Thursday that the Football Association and the England football team had “made a big mistake.”
“All forms of racism are vile and should be stamped out—but this is not the way,” Anderson wrote.
“For the first time in my life I will not be watching my beloved England team whilst they are supporting a political movement whose core principles aim to undermine our very way of life,” he wrote.