What does taking the knee mean? Why are England footballers taking the knee at Qatar World Cup 2022?

Taking the knee is an anti-racism gesture inspired by NFL star Colin Kaepernick

Gareth Southgate has announced that his England squad will take the knee during the World Cup in Qatar.

Following the resumption of football after the Covid-19 pause, the Three Lions made the gesture against racism and injustice through 33 consecutive matches. England did not take the knee in the fixtures they played in September, but they will do so in Monday's (21 November) Group B opener against Iran and throughout the World Cup.

“We have discussed taking the knee,” England manager Southgate said. “We feel we should. It’s what we stand for as a team and have done for a long period of time.

“Of course we understand in the Premier League that the clubs have decided to only do that for certain games, big occasions.”

Before the start of the current football season, Premier League captains opted to use specific moments to take the knee, rather than making the gesture at every match.

“We feel this is the biggest and we think it’s a strong statement that will go around the world for young people, in particular, to see that inclusivity is very important,” added Southgate.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

Why are players taking the knee?

Tyrone Mings of England takes the knee - a gesture against racism - prior to an international friendly vs Romania. (Pic: Getty)

Taking a knee is an anti-racism gesture, and the move gained significant coverage during England’s Euro 2020 campaign last year. Head of player engagement at Kick It Out, Troy Townsend explained the action in a statement released on 3 June 2021.

He said: “Taking a knee was a gesture chosen by the players as a stance for greater racial equality in football. It is important to reiterate they have said explicitly that it was not intended to be connected to any specific political movement.

“All the players and staff who wear the Three Lions shirt with pride share a collective voice in the fight against racism. To those that booed, we ask you to support them irrespective of the gesture they use.

“The actions and support of all fans can send a powerful message across the whole country that football is united in the fight against racism.”

Premier League players began taking the knee before fixtures following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin. The campaign was inspired by the kneeling protest staged by American football star Colin Kaepernick in 2016, that has since become synonymous with the Black Lives Matter movement.

Players kneel down against racism before the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium in London on June 18, 2021 (Photo: JUSTIN TALLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Will England be fined?

The news of England taking the knee comes hot on the heels of the announcement that England and Wales will not wear an anti-discrimination armband in their World Cup matches on Monday (21 November), after FIFA threatened them with sporting sanctions.

The armbands will no longer be worn, according to a joint declaration from the seven European countries that signed up to the One Love campaign, which included England and Wales.

“FIFA has been very clear that it will impose sporting sanctions if our captains wear the armbands on the field of play,” the statement began. “As national federations, we can’t put our players in a position where they could face sporting sanctions including bookings, so we have asked the captains not to attempt to wear the armbands in FIFA World Cup games.”

Harry Kane was due to wear the OneLove armband against Iran, while Wales captain Gareth Bale was planning to wear it against the US later that evening. The band features the rainbow colours of the Pride flag and was intended to make a bold statement in Qatar, a country that criminalises same-sex partnerships.

The statement continued: “We were prepared to pay fines that would normally apply to breaches of kit regulations and had a strong commitment to wearing the armband. However, we cannot put our players in the situation where they might be booked or even forced to leave the field of play.

FIFA revealed its own plans for an armband to showcase a series of social initiatives at each level of the tournament on Saturday (19 November).

It seems unlikely that England will be fined for taking the knee, as the gesture does not breach FIFA kit regulations which dictate that there cannot be political, religious or personal slogans, sentiments, or images on players’ kits. Nor does it interfere directly with the run of play.

Why do some fans boo the gesture?

Most of those who oppose the the gesture have failed to present a clear explanation of why they boo taking the knee. Some have said the gesture’s ties to the Black Lives Matter movement is why they jeer.

Tory MP for Dudley Marco Longhi said fans wanted to watch football "without having the agenda of a Marxist supporting organisation rammed down their throats by overpaid prima donnas".

Lee Anderson, also a Tory MP, called for a boycott of English fixtures.

He said: “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”.

Some footballers stopped taking the knee during the Premier League season, including Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace, but he explained that his decision was a personal one and that he would continue to “fully respect” those “who continue to take the knee.”