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Europe divided on taking the knee during EURO 2020 football tournament

Europe divided on taking the knee during EURO 2020 football tournament

Some teams support kneeling, while others say the gesture has become "meaningless" in the fight to tackle racism.

Footballers are often derided for diving during matches in a bid to cheat the referee into awarding a free kick or a penalty.

But, as EURO 2020 kicks off on Friday, some will hope failing to stay on both feet will win them newfound respect.

A handful of teams look set to take the knee before matches as a show of support for racial justice.

The gesture began five years ago when American football star Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to highlight racism. It spread to Europe in the aftermath of the police murder of black man George Floyd in Minneapolis last year.

So what have European teams said taking the knee at EURO 2020?

England


England manager Gareth Southgate has said his players are "more determined than ever" to continue taking the knee.

Their anti-racism gesture were met with boos -- and some applause -- from England supporters at recent games against Austria and Romania.

"We feel more than ever determined to take the knee throughout this tournament," said Southgate. "We accept that there might be an adverse reaction but we're going to just ignore that and move forwards."

Defender Luke Shaw has also backed the move.

"We all agree that it was the right thing to carry on taking the knee," he said "It's as simple as that. We'll keep doing that and we believe in that. We won't stop."

Croatia


Croatia, England's opponents in Group D of the tournament, have decided not to kneel, as shown in the recent friendly with Belgium.

"The Croatian Football Federation and the Croatian national team strongly condemn any and all forms of discrimination. We also respect the right of every individual and every organisation to select the circumstances and the manner in which they will take a stand against racism and/or other forms of discrimination," the federation said in a statement to Euronews.

"The Croatian Football Federation believes that the players have a right to their own opinion on these topics and that they also have a right to choose whether they want to engage in any activity. The players of the Croatian national team jointly decided ahead of the friendly match against Belgium that they will not take the knee, and they respectfully stood in silence during the kneeling of their Belgian colleagues.

"The Croatian Football Federation respects their stance on this and will not impose taking the knee as an obligation for Croatian players, as this gesture does not hold any symbolic ties to the fight against racism and discrimination in the context of Croatian culture and tradition.

"In general, we believe the most important thing is the fact that Croatian internationals have conducted themselves respectfully throughout their careers and that they have shown through their behaviour that they respect all individuals, opponents, and teammates, regardless of race, religion, social status, ethnicity, or any other characteristic, which is a value that is also promoted by the Croatian Football Federation."

Scotland


Scotland, also in Group D, are against taking the knee, believing the gesture is not bringing about meaningful change.

But, in solidarity with their neighbours and rivals England, they will kneel before the pair play each other at Wembley on June 18.

"I explained in March the rationale behind the squad decision [not to take the knee]: not only is it consistent with the collective approach from Scottish football above but the purpose of taking the knee, to raise awareness and help eradicate racism in football and society, has been diluted and undermined by the continuation of abuse towards players," said head coach Steve Clarke.

Scotland captain Andy Robertson said: "In Scotland, the football family has stood against racism all season. It was our collective view that the national team would do the same.

"Our stance is that everyone, players, fans, teams, clubs, federations, governing bodies and governments must do more. Meaningful action is needed if meaningful change is to occur."

Czech Republic


Earlier this year, Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela was accused of racially abusing a player at Scottish side Rangers.

In the aftermath of that controversy, the Czech FA clarified its position on taking the knee.

"The management of the Czech national football team together with the Football Association of the Czech Republic want to jointly announce that the national team will take a neutral apolitical stance to certain topics that have been resonating in the sports environment. This namely concerns the Black Lives Matter (BLM) initiative, in which some players kneel before football matches.

"To express their support for the fight against racism and other displays of discrimination, xenophobia and antisemitism, the Czech national team will point to the UEFA Respect inscription on the left sleeve of their jerseys, referring to the UEFA campaign of the same name, before the match in Wales [on March 30, 2021]."

France


French players, including Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, were pictured kneeling before a recent friendly game with Wales.

However, it's unclear what they will do at EURO 2020. France's football federation did not respond to Euronews' requests to clarify.

Belgium


Belgium's players, including Inter Milan star Romelu Lukaku, were photographed taking the knee before a EURO 2020 warm-up match against Greece.

Hungary


Hungary's football association (MLSZ) released a statement earlier this month: "UEFA and FIFA rules do not allow any politics on the pitch and in the stadium, and MLSZ not only accepts this but also agrees with it. The national team will not kneel before matches to express that they condemn any form of hatred."

During a recent friendly match with the Republic of Ireland in Budapest -- one of the venues for EURO 2020 -- fans allegedly booed Irish players for kneeling.

Ireland coach Stephen Kenny called the boos "incomprehensible" and "damaging" to Hungary's reputation.

Hungary's PM Viktor Orban, weighing in on the issue, defended the home fans in Budapest, saying the fight against racism "has no place on a sports field".

"It is not a solution" to bring such a moral and historical "burden" in a country like Hungary which "has never been concerned with the slave trade", he said.

"If you are invited to a country, make the effort to understand its culture and do not provoke local residents," he added.

Austria


Austria's players joined English ones in taking a knee in the recent friendly between the pair, although it is unclear if the team will continue the gesture during the tournament.

Wales


Their players took the knee before a recent friendly with Albania but the Welsh football association, contacted by Euronews, did not respond to requests to clarify intentions during the forthcoming tournament.

What does UEFA say?


UEFA has said it supports players in taking a knee and has urged fans to support teams in doing so.

"UEFA has a zero-tolerance against racism and any player who wants to demand equality amongst human beings by taking the knee will be allowed to do so," a spokesperson told Euronews. "We urge spectators to show respect for teams and players taking the knee."

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