You’ve heard of Black Lives Matter. But you’ve probably never heard of Fans For Diversity.
The grassroots football supporters campaign – a joint project of the Football Supporters’ Association and the Kick It Out alliance – does not feature its name or slogan prominently on the back of Premier League match shirts.
No stars or officials have taken pride in kicking off their crusade to ‘overcome exclusion or a perception of exclusion’ in the game.
Footballers have mastered Premier League matches in support of the global Black Lives Matter movement after George Floyd’s death in the US
Where Black Lives Matter UK strives to ‘dismantle imperialism, capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy and the state structures that disproportionately harm black people in Britain and around the world’, the more modest goal of Fans For Diversity is to ensure that when it comes to ‘cakes and pakoras; Bovril and beer; a rainbow flag? It doesn’t matter once we’re in the stadium, we’re all fans with the same goal. ‘
Last week was the week when Black Lives Matter screwed up. The British wing of the campaign, driven into the country’s consciousness by the relentless American police murder of George Floyd, imploded in a series of self-inflicted goons.
The ludicrous demand to “expose the police,” followed by an infantile attack on Sir Keir Starmer for not approving their call. Further revelations about their far-left agenda.
And accusations of anti-Semitism following the distribution by one of their affiliates of images of a racist mural, coupled with the inflammatory claim “British politics has been silenced from the right to criticize Zionism.”
Suddenly, celebrities, companies, and organizations queuing to support the campaign stood up and headed for the hills.
The BBC hastily announced that it banned presenters from wearing BLM badges in the air. Hertfordshire police warned its officers against taking a knee at protest meetings.
The Cricket Board of England and Wales, which had agreed to put independent BLM branding on players ‘shirts for the Test series with the West Indies, hastened to state that’ our support for that message is not endorsed, tacitly or otherwise, of any political organization. “
But it was Premier League approval that gave Black Lives Matters their biggest coup. And it is within football that the main – and potentially dangerous – backlash has occurred.
Racism has been a scar on the national game for decades. Cruel abuse of players. Violent abuse of BAME fans. The use of football pitches as unofficial recruitment agencies for the Front National and the British National Party.
But it is to their credit that the football authorities and supporter groups have seriously worked on eradicating racism in recent years.
That makes the decision to delay initiatives like Fans For Diversity even more inexplicable in the rush to hand Black Lives Matter an estimated £ 25 million in free ads.
Racism has been an issue in football for several years, with players such as Raheem Sterling (pictured) being victims of racist abuse on British grounds
Players wore ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirts for the first few games of the Premier League resume, with the BLM movement receiving around £ 25 million in free ads
The past few days I have tried to understand how that decision was made. And it is clear that what has been proposed by the Premier League as a move to support the Black Lives Matter campaign was in fact the result of the power of the players.
The drive to put Black Lives Matter on the back of shirts was at the request of the Premier League Black Participants Advisory Group, chaired by Doncaster Rovers manager Darren Moore, and supported by Watford captain Troy Deeney and Leicester captain Wes Morgan.
It was Deeney and his partner who designed the Black Lives Matter logos that will be worn on Premier League shirts for the rest of the season.
They also received support from the influential but unofficial Captain’s Group, led by Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson, who became increasingly important during discussions about Project Restart, the League’s strategy to end the season after Covid’s close -19.
During meetings to discuss these plans, the rebranding of the shirt and the taking of knee demonstrations were discussed.
But consultation within the broader football community seems to have been minimal. The Football Supporters’ Association was unable to confirm that an important discussion about the plan had taken place.
Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said his organization was “made aware of the dialogue,” although they were keen to support the movement.
Kick It Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said his organization was ‘made aware of the dialogue’ to take a knee and put Black Lives Matters on the back of shirts, although they were happy to support the movement
He added, “We do not endorse or comment on the broader political or other aspirations of organizations that claim to own the Black Lives Matter movement.”
According to Premier League sources, the supporter groups’ plan was explained during a planned ‘structural dialogue meeting’.
The drive of black and white players and managers to show solidarity with a high-profile anti-racist campaign is commendable. Other sports follow their example.
But the reality is that it is seen to be so close to such a radical and undisciplined organization as Black Lives Matters blew up in the face of football.
Attempts to make the essential distinction between the movement and its message were absent at the start of the campaign.
The wider football family has been split and some teams, players and experts have been forced to distance themselves from the BLM group.
And the decision to embrace the Black Lives Matter organization has risked opening the door to precisely those racist elements that the game has so vigorously tried to expel from its ranks.
While players from Manchester City and Burnley paraded the Black Lives Matter message at Etihad Stadium two weeks ago, a banner that read ‘White Lives Matter’ flew above the ground.
The response to the BLM movement in football has not all been positive: a plane with the ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ flag flew over Etihad Stadium for Burnley’s trip to Manchester City in June
The sponsor, a Burnley fan who supports the English Defense League, quickly received a life ban for his club and was fired.
But the damage was done. In 2001, Burnley was the scene of a vicious racing riot caused by BNP members. In the 2005 general election, the BNP candidate came within 200 votes of the conservatives. Unemployment in Burnley is significantly higher than the national and Lancashire averages, as are the overall benefit rates.
In January, a charity set up to tackle underachievement in black students highlighted Burnley in his decision to shift focus to underperforming white students.
Taking one of the greatest symbols of traditionally white working class identity in a town like Burnley and putting ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back isn’t just giving £ 25 million in free ads to the Black Lives Matter organization .
It gives a gift to those trying to make the simplistic, divisive argument ‘see, we’ve warned you. It is now black lives that have priority, not white lives. ‘
The fight against racism is not easy. If it were, there would be no more struggle at all. Slogans, however powerful, are not enough. Nor are bony responses, no matter how well intended.
Football has done an excellent job eradicating racism through patient, non-flashy, grassroots initiatives such as Fans For Diversity and Kick It Out. That’s where players, managers and umpires need to focus their efforts.
Last week, Black Lives Matter blew it. The fight against racism in football – and society as a whole – should not go in the same direction.