The chairman of Kick It Out has urged every Premier League footballer to protest the killing of George Floyd by American police by taking a knee when the season resumes this month and has said the Football Association should not punish players who use their platforms to call for social change.
On a day when Liverpool’s players and coaching staff went down on one knee in the Anfield centre circle to express solidarity with those protesting against Floyd’s death, Sanjay Bhandari told the Guardian there was nothing political about footballers standing against racism and called on the German FA (DFB) not to sanction Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi, Weston McKennie and Marcus Thuram for leading protests in the Bundesliga against police brutality in the US. The DFB has said it is investigating.
Although the head of English football’s anti-discrimination charity said he understood why Sancho was booked for lifting his shirt to reveal the message “Justice for George Floyd” after scoring in Borussia Dortmund’s win over Padeborn on Sunday, he argued it would be wrong for the England winger to face further punishment. Bhandari, who called on white players to join black teammates in making a stand, said there must be freedom to protest when the Premier League season resumes on 17 June and questioned whether it would be a breach of rules around political messaging if players followed the example of Thuram, who went down on one knee after scoring for Borussia Mönchengladbach against Hertha Berlin.
The dilemma for the game’s authorities is whether players are contravening regulations by protesting against Floyd’s killing. Hakimi also showed a “Justice for George Floyd” message after scoring for Dortmund and McKennie, Schalke’s USA international, had the message on an armband. Bhandari said there was nothing wrong with Thuram taking a knee, a symbolic protest against police brutality that the NFL player Colin Kaepernick first used in 2016.
“I hope there will be a degree of leniency shown by the German authorities,” Bhandari said. “I’m not sure how you can sanction Marcus Thuram. I don’t think he’s done anything wrong. He’s just taken a knee. I wonder if that’s the thing I would encourage if players want to protest. If you score a goal and take a knee could everyone do that? Not just the black players. The white players too – everyone.
“Every player should do it. It should be teams doing it. You saw the Erling Haaland celebration after the first game back where all the Borussia Dortmund players did the social distancing celebration. They could all take a knee. Racism’s not about black players or brown fans. It’s about all of us. Racism corrodes society and we’re all hurt by it. Everyone should want to demonstrate their solidarity and disgust.
“I would like to encourage the players to protest if they want to. But I would also like to encourage them to do it in a way that doesn’t expose them to unnecessary sanction. If they could do that by taking a knee, well if every player did that it would be quite a powerful message. I would be interested to hear what the authorities thought of that, whether it would constitute a breach of the rules. To me that is about demonstrating solidarity.”
Two years ago the FA fined Pep Guardiola after the Manchester City manager wore a yellow ribbon in support of Catalonian independence. In 2014 the then Cologne player Anthony Ujah was given a warning by the German football authorities after paying tribute to Eric Garner following his killing and Bhandari said leniency was also required in this situation.
“I would urge all the authorities and all the clubs to show a degree of understanding,” he said. “This is almost above politics. This is about right and wrong. This is someone that was killed on the streets by the police. This is about seeking justice for him and others like him. I don’t see that as being political. That’s human.
“I think the players understand that if they take the shirt off they’re going to get booked. Everything is contextual and in this context I think it would be very harsh for a punishment to go beyond that. I’m not sure how something like taking a knee could expose you.”