England international footballer Tyrone Mings has accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of “stoking the fire” of racist abuse received by his teammates, after she previously said players taking the knee was “gesture politics”.
Politicians – including Ms Patel – and public figures have slammed the racist hate faced by England players, in particular Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka, on social media following their Euro 2020 final defeat.
Ms Patel said she was “disgusted” by the “vile racist abuse” aimed at the players after the Wembley final, yet Mr Mings replied by calling out the Home Secretary after she previously refused to criticise fans who booed the team for taking the knee in protest against racial injustice.
In response to Ms Patel’s Twitter post, Mr Mings said: “You don’t get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as ‘Gesture Politics’ & then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we’re campaigning against, happens.”
A minority of fans booed the anti-racism gesture in both of England’s Euro 2020 warm-up games at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium – the first occasions the knee had been taken with supporters in attendance.
Why are players taking the knee?
Taking a knee is an anti-racism gesture.
Head of player engagement at Kick It Out Troy Townsend explained the action in a statement released on 3 June.
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.
The FA has underlined its stance and asked those with plans to boo the gesture to “reflect” on the image it would project and distanced the move from any political movement.
“Tomorrow, our England senior men’s team will begin their EURO 2020 campaign at our home, Wembley Stadium,” a statement read on the eve of the Croatia game.
“Major tournaments don’t come around often and when they do, it’s an opportunity to unite friends, families and the country.
“This collective support is what spurs our team on during challenging moments and it gives them the best chance of succeeding.
“As the team has reiterated many times, they will collectively take the knee ahead of their fixtures during the tournament.
“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.”
Why are some fans booing 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.”
What has Priti Patel said?
In response to the racism aimed at England’s footballers upon losing the Euro 2020 final, Home Secretary Priti Patel Tweeted her “disgust” at the online hatred.
She said: £I am disgusted that @England players who have given so much for our country this summer have been subject to vile racist abuse on social media. It has no place in our country and I back the police to hold those responsible accountable.”