What does taking the knee mean? Why footballers take the knee, origin of gesture - and what Priti Patel said

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The England team made the gesture before their Euro 2020 games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, while Scotland knelt before the match against their rivals - but what is the history of taking the knee?

It’s a gesture that has become synonymous with football, with many teams “taking the knee” on the pitch to promote a message of anti-racism.

But kneeling has long been symbolic for protestors campaigning against racial violence and abuse and systemic racism.

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Taking the knee became a prominent statement during Euro 2020, when the England team decided to make the gesture before all of their games in the tournament.

And the Scotland football team announced they would kneel “in solidarity” with England before the two nations went head-to-head, going back on their initial decision to stand.

So why do footballers take the knee - and what does it mean?

Here’s what you need to know.

What does ‘taking the knee’ mean?

Players take the knee against racism before the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)Players take the knee against racism before the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)
Players take the knee against racism before the UEFA EURO 2020 Group D football match between England and Scotland at Wembley Stadium (Getty Images)

Taking the knee is an anti-racist statement that has become associated with the Black Lives Matter movement.

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American footballer Colin Kaepernick made the gesture during the national anthem before a match in 2016.

The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback said he made the decision because he could not remain standing to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people.

Since then, the anti-racist statement has become a symbol in sport, as well as during protests.

Taking the knee became a recognised feature of protests that broke out across the US and the rest of the world following the murder of George Floyd.

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People across the globe were encouraged to kneel in solidarity following the death of the black man, who was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis in May last year.

Derek Chauvin, one of four police officers who arrived on the scene, knelt on Floyd's neck and back for 9 minutes and 29 seconds.

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Why do footballers take the knee?

The gesture became associated with football in the UK when players and officials in the Premier League started to take the knee to highlight racial inequality within the game and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

Gareth Southgate, manager of the England team, said his squad would continue to take the knee during their Euro 2020 matches.

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However, some fans booed the gesture when England players knelt before the start of their Euro warm-up games against Romania and Austria.

Those opposed to the gesture were accused of not supporting racial equality, although some fans argued that it had lost its meaning.

In response, Southgate said: "We have got a situation where some people seem to think it is a political stand that they don't agree with. That is not the reason the players are doing it. We are supporting each other.”

The Scotland squad also took the decision to “kneel against ignorance” prior to their Euro 2020 Group D match with England at Wembley on Friday 18 June.

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The decision came following public backlash when the Scottish FA said the team would continue to promote an anti-racist message by standing before their matches, a gesture that was adopted at the start of their World Cup qualifying campaign in March.

Players switched to standing after head coach Steve Clarke claimed the knee gesture had become “a little bit diluted”.

The initial decision to stand came in response to the high-profile incident at Ibrox involving Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara and Czech player Ondrej Kudela. Rangers claimed Kamara was racially abused by the Slavia Prague defender. The Czech side denied the allegation.

Wales and Belgium took the knee at all of their Euro 2020 games as well as England, while several other teams, including Switzerland and Portugal, took the knee before at least one match.

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What did Priti Patel say about it?

Some high-profile politicians have said they oppose taking the knee.

A number of Conservative MPs believe the action is a political statement, with education minister Gillian Keegan saying the gesture was “creating division”.

And Prime Minister Boris Johnson said people should be "free to show... how much they condemn racism in any way they choose", a statement that was met with backlash from Labour which criticised Mr Johnson for not condemning fans who booed the England squad.

But Home Secretary Priti Patel has faced the highest levels of criticism for her comments about taking the knee.

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At the start of the Euros, Ms Patel said she did not support "people participating in that type of gesture politics" and said fans who booed England players for doing it had a “choice” in the matter.

When young Three Lions stars Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka and Jadon Sancho missed penalties in the final against Italy last Sunday (11 July), they were targeted by racist abuse on social media.

The Home Secretary tweeted that she was “disgusted” about the “vile” racism - a comment that was rebuked by England player Tyrone Mings who said the Tory minister had “stoked a fire” which led to the abuse after the game.

He replied to Ms Patel’s Tweet, saying: "You don't get to stoke the fire at the beginning of the tournament by labelling our anti-racism message as 'Gesture Politics' and then pretend to be disgusted when the very thing we're campaigning against, happens."

The Tweet has since racked up more than half a million likes.

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