What's taking the knee and why is it important?

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England players take the knee before their opening World Cup 2022 match against IranImage source, Getty Images

England's footballers will take the knee at their World Cup matches in Qatar.

Taking the knee has spread across the sporting world as a statement against racism.

How long have English players taken the knee?

The practice of taking the knee before football matches became widespread in 2020.

It followed the murder in the US of George Floyd - an unarmed African American man - who was killed during an arrest by white officer Derek Chauvin.

England's men's and women's teams adopted taking the knee, including during the European Championships that took place in the summers of 2021 and 2022.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
England and Germany take the knee before the Women's Euro 2022 final

Premier League players also took the knee before matches following football's return from the Covid-19 shutdown in the summer of 2020.

It was then decided ahead of the start of this season to use specific moments throughout the season to take the knee rather than making the gesture at every match.

Why do some people oppose taking the knee?

Several Conservative politicians have said they oppose kneeling because they see it as a political statement.

Before Euro 2020, the then Home Secretary Priti Patel said that she did not support "people participating in that type of gesture politics".

Gillian Keegan, who is now the education secretary, has previously said taking the knee is "creating division", and Tory MP Lee Anderson refused to watch England's Euro 2020 matches in protest, saying it was a political gesture with which he disagreed.

Rather than demonstrating opposition to racism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement, it has been argued that kneeling actually shows support for a campaigning organisation also called Black Lives Matter.

But England manager Gareth Southgate has said the England team's actions were not in support of the Black Lives Matter organisation. In June 2021 he 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."

Downing Street has said it will respect the decisions of teams on taking the knee during this World Cup.

England players were jeered by some Hungarian fans when they took a knee before their Nations League match in June, despite most of the crowd in Budapest being children.

Where does taking the knee in sport come from?

American footballer Colin Kaepernick took the knee during the national anthem before a match in 2016. He said he could not stand to show pride in the flag of a country that oppressed black people.

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Image caption,
Colin Kaepernick (centre) began taking a knee in 2016

The anti-racist statement has since become a prominent symbol in sport and during protests.

It has also been a feature of Black Lives Matter protests, including those following the murder of George Floyd.

What other protests have been made?

  • At the Mexico Olympics in 1968, Tommie Smith and John Carlos gave the black power salute on the medal rostrum
  • Basketball star Mahmoud Abdul Rauf refused to stand for the US national anthem in 1996 and described the US flag as a symbol of oppression
  • LeBron James and other basketball players wore T-shirts with the words "I can't breathe" written on them in 2014, echoing the last words of Eric Garner, who died after being restrained by police officers in New York.
Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Martin Luther King Jr led a group of civil rights activists to take a knee in prayer after being arrested while campaigning for voting rights in 1965