Marc Glendening is Head of Cultural Affairs at the Institute of Economic Affairs.
What will the Football Association do if England supporters boo as the England team takes a knee during its opening game today?
For after some did so before its recent friendly with Austria, an FA spokesperson ominously declared: “we continue to work with the appropriate bodies to ensure that supporters are dealt with if they are deemed to behave in an actively discriminatory manner. If necessary, we would look to take further action against those individuals, regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with our national team.”
And Gareth Southgate chipped in, true to the authoritarian party line, saying he hoped “by educating these people, some day they’ll understand why we take the knee.” Thanks for the high moral tone, gaffer.
The FA statement went on to say that this practice and the associated support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign was “not a political symbol, and there can be no doubt as to what this gesture means in a footballing context”.
England will continue to do so throughout the Euro championship, though many other teams taking part won’t: for example, neither Italy nor Turkey did before Friday’s opening fixture. (Scotland will pick and choose: doing so when playing knee-taking England; not doing so against non knee-taking Croatia.)
Momentum is building at club level, too – with Brentford announcing they will not be knee-taking next season. The prejudice (and jealousy) I naturally direct against the Bees as a QPR fan is now on hold, without even the aid of the bias re-educative training that people like Southgate tend to approve of.
This sinister statement quoted above invites two inter-related questions.
First, was it definitively suggesting that the booing was in and of itself an act of discrimination against ethnic minority background players? If not, how could this totalitarian-sounding release possibly be justified?
Second, what exactly is the status of the FA’s support for BLM? Does the FA believe Britain is or is not ‘structurally racist’? If ‘yes’ then the campaign is, by definition, political. If ‘no’ then it should say so, and risk the wrath of the New Left identitarians. (Fat chance.)
How could the spokesperson possibly have known what was in in the minds of those engaged in this demonstration of disapproval? They simultaneously implied that it was motivated by racism, but that further investigatory work would need to be done – hence the words “if they are deemed to behave…” in order to ascertain what exactly what was going on.
By what method and when? And why the confusing ambiguity? The qualification “if” seemed to indicate an uncertainty about the precise nature of these noises. Before knees were taken, England fans did not direct hostility towards the country’s non-white players, so why would they suddenly do so now? The footballing nomenklatura, like most rationally-minded observers of this situation, are probably well aware that many of the booers are really expressing hostility to the ideology intrinsically associated with BLM.
Some evidence from social media exchanges about this issue suggests that the dissenting fans couldn’t care less about skin pigmentation but want to make a statement against the racist assertion that Britons who just so happen to be white are collectively guilty for the historic crime of slavery.
They are sick of being told that they, by definition, enjoy ‘privilege’ – regardless of their individual life circumstances. That they hold racist prejudices, even if they know that they do not adhere to such irrationality. They also don’t like the various heavy-duty, anti-liberal proposals in the BLM manifesto. This is an alternative explanation and arguably a much, much more plausible one. But it is not one the FA dare admit might be true.
For to do so would be to concede that the booers are just on the other side of an ideological divide. So to justify its intolerant castigation of them, it has to semi-assert that they possess thoughts so foul that they should not be debated with, just erased.
And if the FA board has indeed become transformed into a sporting version of the politbureau, that can issue directives on issues that have nothing to do with soccer, where does that end? “You don’t support our stance on the NHS because you favour transition to an insurance-based provision? Really? Right, get out of the stadium, now!’ ‘You wan a radical change to the structure of local government with more powers for elected mayors? OK, banned for life.’ The FA actually has policy against making political statements. Pep Guardiola was told he could not wear a Catalan independence emblem during matches. So it can hardly now admit to having gone all agit-prop.
The FA, at the time of writing, has not responded to two questions I have put to it about whether it endorses BLM the organisation and accepts or rejects Critical Race Theory (CRT). Why so coy, if it really is a non-political operation, concerned only with rooting out the racism said to exist in the game?
And why does the FA include on its website “A Letter to English Football” from Paul Elliot, chair of the FA’s Inclusion Advisory Board, that states, referring to BLM: “This global movement was captured beautifully by the… multicultural, multiracial make up of the protestors…”
The footballing elite, like most of the hollow men and women in the hierarchies of big corporations and major civil society institutions, wants to have its proverbial cake and eat it. The doublethink aims are to gain acclaim from the likes of BLM, Stonewall and so on, but also to refrain from any overtly ideological defence to wider society of the contentious positions this necessarily involves.
So BLM banners are imposed on stadiums whose precise meaning is left hanging, and it is declared in a video that the FA is opposed to ‘social injustice’. This confirms that the FA does indeed share a critique, as advanced by CRT/BLM, of Britain as a country characterised by a generalised state of inequality regarding race, and goodness knows what else.
However, when challenged, it retreats into a cowardly, ultra-defensive Catenaccio-style formation and refuses to proclaim the principles that underlie this contention – and then seeks to kick those that disagree with them off the park. Hence the baleful phrase: “if necessary, we would look to take further action against those individuals, regardless of whether or not they are affiliated with our national team.”
What the footballing authorities have not factored in is that a so far silent majority of the population are now beginning to counter-mobilise. This was seen recently when members of the National Trust forced out the chief executive for taking them down the Woke road. Academics at Cambridge have successfully defeated the attempt to restrict their free speech.
Footie fans are also now contributing to this fight back in the culture war that has been visited upon Britain by the new authoritarians and their fellow travellers within the cultural elite. Who says, in a liberal democracy, that only one side gets to speak?