Watching players take a knee in the final seconds before kick-off during English Premier League matches in 2020 has continued to irk many.
There is a fair swathe of people who see the players’ decision to do so as a divisive statement that in some way detracts from the lives of those whose skin colour has historically seen them never fall victim to racism, discrimination and intolerance.
Frankly, I find that view somewhat odd and out of step with the original and pure intentions of the statement being made by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Admittedly, it is poorly named, with All Lives Matter potentially eliminating much of the angst caused to white supremacists and those merely a little uncomfortable with the current moniker.
Those feeling that the brief moment taken by EPL players to symbolically support the brilliant black footballers around them is unnecessary, might perhaps reflect on the fortune and privilege of their own lives before rejecting the action.
Many, myself included, would possess little or no understanding of the emotions attached to feeling unwanted, segregated or being discriminated against in the most consistent and casual way.
With racist and abusive incidents still regularly being reported in European football leagues during 2019 and the sight of players leaving the pitch in tears; with or without the support of their teammates, the EPL players’ quiet gesture is an important and necessary step for the game.
As the most played and powerful sport in the world, it is football’s duty to reflect the broader social concerns of the planet on which we live.
In doing so, the round ball game leads and sets the tone rather than reacting to it. Thus presenting an image of responsibility and leadership and not just a sport prepared to put up with some of the unsavoury incidents and commentary we have seen from some members within it.
With A-League football now just eight weeks away, the PFA, FFA and club owners should be entering into discussions around the way Australia’s players will support and/or engage with the Black Lives Matter movement in season 2020-21.
The agreement they arrive at should see A-League players prepared to offer a similar or unique gesture to their teammates and their football comrades all around the world, rather than be prepared to sit idly by as injustice remains.
English football at the top level now features in excess of 35 per cent of players of colour. It is a truly international competition with African, Asian and South American players now some of the biggest stars in the league. Their decision to take a knee in support of each other appears to be a no-brainer.
With far less diversity in the A-League, some will argue the lack of a need for our domestic players to do the same. However, such a view reeks of an insular perspective and in fact, may be underlining the actual message being made by the movement.
The fact that Indigenous Australians are so poorly represented in A-League play is symptomatic of systematic flaws and the precise reason that football in Australia should be well aware of and express support for, injustices based on the colour of a person’s skin.
Indigenous Matildas Lydia Williams and Kyah Simon deserve the respect of their male and female peers, as well as a clear physical statement of intent from the entire football community. The symbolic weight of such a statement cannot be underestimated.
While there will no doubt be a backlash to any decision that sees A-League players undertake a powerful and physical act of protest this coming season, we might do well to consider the sources.
No doubt a controversial former fish and chip shop owner from up north would enter the fray, as would the abrasive and seemingly unhinged Mark Latham.
Sky news’ Alan Jones would be waiting in the wings, predictably ready to pounce and all three will no doubt express similar sentiments to those of former Wallaby captain Nick Farr-Jones.
During the week, the successful lawyer and Newington College graduate questioned whether racial discrimination was a “major issue” in Australia.
Whilst speaking on Nine Radio’s 2GB, Farr-Jones encouraged the Wallabies to refrain from taking a symbolic knee prior to their Bledisloe Cup match against the All-Blacks in Sydney.
“You run the risk that a few (viewers) would just turn off”, he said.
The earlier point made about the inability to empathise due to the fortune and privilege experienced in one’s own life appears particularly relevant in this case. A point no doubt fuelling the rebuttal of Indigenous former Wallaby Gary Ella who simply stated, “That’s just stupid.”
My life matters no more than yours nor yours than mine, irrespective of our skin colour, religion, nationality, sexuality or heritage. Such a belief would lie at the core of a fair, just and compassionate community, something which planet earth is still far from becoming.
With its new season on the horizon, the A-League now has the opportunity to decide on the image and statement it wishes to deliver domestically and abroad.
Let’s hope it is a powerful one.