Sanjay Bhandari, Kick It Out Chair, shares his thoughts around footballers taking the knee and where the discussion should be focused.

Much has been said recently around footballers taking the knee and whether or not it should continue. It is our view that gestures and symbols are important when done collectively and consistently, because they are a signal to those with power to act. 

Gestures are only meaningful if they are consensual and freely made. It is a personal choice of each player and we support any player’s free choice to kneel or not. 

All gestures and symbols have a natural lifecycle, from spontaneous protest and mass adoption, to choreographed performance, and ultimately, they risk becoming unnoticed wallpaper. 

The meaning of all gestures and symbols is likely to decay over time, so we would always suggest that any campaign should have a defined beginning, middle and end. 

Taking a knee was a gesture chosen by the players expressly as a protest for greater racial equality in football - it is important to note that they said explicitly that it was not intended to be connected to any specific political movement.

It is also up to players and each club to decide how long they continue to protest. The PFA polled its members before Christmas and there remained overwhelming support for continuing the gesture, and most clubs are still continuing the gesture.

In my view, footballers taking a knee has already had two significant successes. 48 clubs have signed up to The Football Leadership Diversity Code, committing to greater representation in coaching and senior leadership with recruitment targets. The Online Safety Bill, tackling online hate, has been on the legislative back burner for over 12 months, but it has moved up the agenda and is now arguably the number one priority for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). I believe that neither of those things would have happened, and certainly not as quickly, were it not for the players taking a knee and keeping the issue of racial inequality in football in public consciousness. 

But both of these are promises for the future and change will take time. Some of the challenges, such as black under-representation in coaching, have been around for years. So, these victories may not feel like enough progress has been made and it is understandable that players remain frustrated.

The level of online hate has predictably increased massively in lockdown, which turns that frustration into anger. But the organisations with the power to make quick fixes on online hate are neither football nor government - it is Facebook and Twitter. 

Therefore, however long taking a knee continues as a form of protest, it is likely that racial inequality will outlast it. My concern is that football is so often short-term and reactive to outside events, that there is a risk that momentum for change will be lost. 

In my view, authorities will continue to need the visible reminders to act. The gestures and symbols might change over time, but the need to remind those with power to act will remain. And the players have a massive platform which they should continue to use in the way they see fit. 

The responsibility of Kick It Out, and the media and fans, is to hold football to account on those promises to change. We will keep up that pressure to take action. 

Photo credit: Damitry Pukalik