Ismaila Sarr and his Watford team-mates taking the knee before their game against Luton at Vicarage Road

Credit: GETTY IMAGES

Footballers are to be offered an alternative to taking the knee under plans to end the toxic stand-off between players and fans over the gesture.

Amid deepening divisions over the pre-match ritual, including the booing of it by England supporters during the European Championship, moves have begun to devise a different way of promoting an anti-racism message before matches.

The English Football League on Wednesday confirmed it had launched a wide-ranging consultation over a unified approach around anti-discrimination activity on match-days in its competitions.

Public policy and research specialists Public First have been appointed to survey players, clubs, supporters and other stakeholders for their views, including on taking the knee and potential alternatives to it.

Any changes to current EFL match-day activity will be launched in time for next season, when clubs hope to be able to welcome large crowds back to games following the coronavirus crisis.

Players who wish to continue to take the knee will not be prevented from doing so but an alternative to it may convince many to stop performing a gesture its advocates insist is a show of support for racial equality but its critics claim is tantamount to an endorsement of the more radical policies of the Black Lives Matter movement.

EFL chief executive Trevor Birch said: “The EFL is committed to tackling all forms of discrimination and recognises the important role football can play in the fight against racism and prejudice. Earlier this year, the EFL and its clubs agreed to review the collective approach to anti-discrimination activity on a match-day, with consideration given to centralised activity across the league.

“To inform any campaign, it was considered absolutely essential that we undertake a comprehensive programme of research and consultation in order to establish what fans, players, clubs and many others connected to the game want to see on an EFL match-day. 

“As we strive to make our stadia inclusive, accessible and welcoming for all, this work will consider how the EFL can improve its match-day operation, collate views on taking the knee across the game and use the findings to inform our work going forward.”

Fans have booed players for taking the knee in the few matches with crowds since the coronavirus crisis began. That includes in England’s opening Euro 2020 match and their two warm-up games, despite repeated pleas for spectators not to do so.

Some EFL clubs and players have refused to perform the gesture amid concerns it has lost its impact since it was introduced following the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

As revealed by Telegraph Sport, Brentford will become the first Premier League team to do so following their promotion last month.

The captains of other top-flight clubs will discuss towards the start of next season whether they and their team-mates continue to take the knee.