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Fri, 15 January 2021

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By Tricia Hillas
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Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly Has Condemned Millwall Fans Who Booed Footballers Taking The Knee Against Racism

Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly Has Condemned Millwall Fans Who Booed Footballers Taking The Knee Against Racism

Foreign office minister James Cleverly criticised Millwall fans who booed their own players for taking the knee against racism (PA)

3 min read

The foreign office minister James Cleverly has heavily criticised the Millwall fans who booed their own players for taking the knee against racism.

Since the death of George Floyd earlier this year, footballers have been showing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement at the start of matches.

But this weekend, the first time fans were allowed back into stadiums since the pandemic started, a section of supporters at Millwall’s game with Derby on Saturday reacted to the gesture with boos.

Asked about the incident Mr Cleverly told BBC Breakfast: "The footballers clearly wanted to demonstrate solidarity with people who had either been victims of racism or fighting against racism, I think that's a noble and honourable thing for them to do.

"Ultimately what those fans did was wrong.”

Appearing on LBC, the minister added that he felt "more concrete measures" are needed to tackle racism in sport, and taking the knee "on its own won't do it".

"I don't think anyone should feel bullied or intimidated into doing something that they don't feel reflects their views,” he said,

"I don't take the knee and I've been fighting racism both personally and in politics my whole life.

"It's not my thing and I don't think people should be criticised for not doing it."

It comes after his ministerial colleague George Eustice was accused of “providing shelter to racists” after he failed to condemn the booing Millwall fans yesterday.

The environment secretary said “the issue of race and racial discrimination is something that we all take very very seriously”.

But he told Sky News: “My personal view is that Black Lives Matter, capital B, L and M, is actually a political movement that is different to what most of us believe in, which is standing up for racial equality.”

“Each individual can take their own choices about how they reflect this and I know a number of people feel quite strongly and have taken that approach.”

After being played a clip of the incident he added: “If people choose to express their view in a particular way that should always be respected.”

But Sanjay Bhandari, chair of the football anti-discrimination body Kick It Out, told the Guardian Mr Eustice had made a “lazy conflation of taking a knee with a specific political movement”.

He added: “Careless responses like this provide shelter to racists who oppose anti-racist gestures.”

And a spokesperson for Black Lives Matter UK said: “Taking a knee is not a political statement or showing support for any political group. It’s becoming exhausting have to repeat over and over again what many already know but choose to ignore.”

But Mr Cleverly defended Mr Eustice, telling the BBC: "I think he echoed some of the concerns that I've raised that some elements of the Black Lives Matter movement are moving very much into a political sphere, talking about defunding the police and things like that, which are more about politics rather than fighting racism.

"And I think there are some legitimate concerns about some of the things that some elements of BLM are calling for.

"But, more broadly, those players on the pitch were displaying solidarity with people who are fighting against racism in society and that's not something that should be booed."

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