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White Lives Matter banner should not be ignored – football must continue to reject racism

Football must confront the far right sentiments that exist with the game

Miguel Delaney
Tuesday 23 June 2020 08:11 BST
Plane pulling ‘white lives matter’ banner flies above Man City vs Burnley match

The plane incident at Manchester City vs Burnley on Monday night should not be ignored, or dismissed as giving oxygen to the ignorant. It should be placed in its correct context, and fully condemned.

This is genuinely a landmark political moment for the game.

Stand back and consider it: A far-right statement was flown over a Premier League football stadium. This, frankly, is shocking. The fact Burnley were so admirably quick in condemning it only emphasises that.

It genuinely isn’t too far removed from Lazio ultras printing stickers of Anne Frank. In that regard, it’s impossible not to wonder what the discussion would be if supporters from Italy, Bulgaria or Hungary—or any other country that has recently seen racist incidents in football—had been responsible.

There would be a lot of questions about the cultures. That should apply here. This is English football in 2020.

It obviously isn’t all of English football in 2020, but it’s there, and seemingly growing. You can sense it in the greater reporting of racist abuse in stands over the last two years, and the uncomfortable fact that so many football supporters were linked to the riots in London last weekend, where the “White Lives Matter” message, of course, featured prominently.

Many at the time bristled at how the game was so willingly brought into that, blamed for it. But it is something the sport must confront.

Football is famously the people’s game, more universal and popular than any other sport. It will thereby cover more of the people’s views than any other, and—as the current political climate shows—many of those views are problematic. That makes the sport’s impressive embrace of the BLM movement all the more important, and even more crucial going forward.

Players take a knee at the Etihad to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement (AP)

For the avoidance of any doubt, the BLM message is a specific response to the systematic and institutional historic victimisation that the black community has had to suffer, so distilled by the death of George Floyd. Any response to that along the lines of “White Lives Matter” is a fundamental rejection of the message, which is what makes it far right—and fundamentally racist. This is an element within the game that cannot be ignored and must be confronted.

That is the view of Piara Power of Fare—the football anti-discrimination network—in a statement to the Press Association.

“The ‘White Lives Matter’ flypast is part of Europe’s wider ‘racist backlash’,” Power said. “Set against the BLM message of equal rights, ‘White Lives Matter’ can only be motivated by racism and a denial of equal rights.”

The details of how this flyover happened, and who was responsible, will doubtless come out over the next few days.

The significance of it, however, cannot be clearer. It is a shocking moment for the game, that only proves the necessity of football embracing “Black Lives Matter.”

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