England fans will stop booing players for taking the knee once they understand it is “about equality” and “not a political gesture”, the head of the Football Association proclaimed on Wednesday.
In his first public comments on the toxic stand-off between Gareth Southgate’s squad and many Three Lions supporters over the gesture, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham confirmed plans had been drawn up to stop the jeering of it during the European Championship.
As exclusively revealed by Telegraph Sport, Bullingham said those plans could include a video message before England’s Wembley opener against Croatia on Sunday.
Fans have ignored repeated pleas by Southgate and his players not to jeer the pre-match ritual, which its advocates insist is a show of support for racial equality but its critics claim is tantamount to an endorsement of some of the more radical policies to have emerged out of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Amid accusations this week the FA had “abdicated its responsibilities” for defusing the stand-off to Southgate and his players, Bullingham told BBC Sport: “We’ve been clear throughout, this is not a political gesture that the team is making.
“They are standing up for equality and they are using a gesture that’s been around for hundreds of years and using it just to make a stance against racism.
“We’re not asking every fan to copy that gesture. We’re just asking them to respect it, and we do expect that they should respect it. They should get behind their team, cheer them on, and let’s have a brilliant Euros with the country getting behind the team.”
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Confirming the FA was “looking at what we can do on match-day, including videos in the stadium”, Bullingham added: “Our general approach with anti-discrimination action is always focused on education, and we need to clarify, so every fan is 100 per cent clear, this is not a political gesture. This is about equality, and we believe once they understand that, they will get behind the team and cheer them on.”
Asked about Boris Johnson’s refusal this week to condemn fans who booed players taking a knee this week, Bullingham replied: “We’re really clear on our position.
“We are 100 per cent behind the players, and we believe that once fans really understand it’s not a political gesture, there is absolutely no reason for them to boo. They should respect the players and get behind their team in the Euros.
“It’s definitely not a positive for the players, but we want to move on, get the team fully supported by the fans, get everyone behind them.”
Uefa’s tournament director Martin Kallen also called for the booing to stop.
“I hope they will not be booed by the people,” he said.
“Of course we are always for fair play… and from our side, it’s important that people are respecting other people’s minds.”