Kick It Out CEO, Tony Burnett, explains how media needs to move the conversation away from who is booing the knee, and towards an exploration of the structural and systematic issues that make taking the knee necessary in the first place.

I sat there on Saturday afternoon eagerly awaiting the Millwall versus Crystal Palace third round FA cup tie. As soon as the tie was announced, there were questions about whether Millwall fans would boo the taking of the knee before the game. 

Personally, I am tired of this particular discussion, and I am frustrated that it detracts from the real conversation.

The vast majority of fans across the country support the players stance around taking the knee and loudly applaud in stadiums every week. Why then do we still choose to give a platform to the few supporters from a handful of clubs who continue to boo a peaceful gesture of protest?

Over the last twelve months since I joined Kick It Out, I have been asked for my views around taking the knee on countless occasions. I have never been asked for my views on structural racism in society and its impact on football. Nor have been asked about racism as a social construct, or about the links between racism and social deprivation and the impact it has on football.

Media in the UK are consistently happy to highlight the gesture of protest and its acceptance by the public, but far less happy to explore the reasons why players are taking the knee and the reason they are in fact being supported by the vast majority football fans.

It has been more than eighteen months since the murder of George Floyd ignited a discussion and brought people together to address fundamental human rights for Black people. Eighteen months on and our discussion within sport is still focussed on gestures.

If we really want to address the issues perhaps the more responsible questions we should be posing are; how many Black managers or head coaches are leading teams in this weekend’s FA cup third round and how does that compare to player representation? How many Black or Asian referees will be officiating in those games? How many Black or Asian referees have ever refereed a cup final? These are the types of questions which open up the real discussions we need to be having within football.

Why are these subjects so rarely explored by the media? I suspect the answer is a combination of often lousy journalism, but also a lack of representation within sports media itself.

I attended the Sports Journalist Awards in December. It is an annual event where the great and the good of sports journalism honour sporting achievement. The lack of diversity amongst the journalists who had gathered there was visible for all to see. Is it any wonder therefore that we are still following an useless discussion around gestures when the agenda is being driven by such a narrow demographic?

I ask our media to please do better. This is an issue of fundamental importance to so many people. It is time we escalated the debate and focussed on the real issues at play.

You have the power to drive that conversation, please take that privilege seriously and recognise it comes with a responsibility. Look around your offices and look at your colleagues. If you don’t see the representation necessary to understand the issues and ask the right questions, find people who do.

Just please never again ask my opinion on taking the knee.