LONDON (Reuters) - Crystal Palace’s Ivory Coast forward Wilfried Zaha says he will stop taking a knee before Premier League matches kick off as part of English football’s anti-racism campaign because he believes the meaning of the “degrading” gesture has been lost.
Players have been taking a knee since July, initially in support of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement before the Premier League and English Football League linked the gesture to their own anti-racism campaigns.
“I feel like taking a knee is degrading. Growing up, my parents let me know that I should just be proud to be Black, no matter what. I just think we should stand tall,” Zaha told the Financial Times’ Business of Football summit on Thursday.
“Taking the knee now... The meaning behind the whole thing is becoming something that we just do now. That’s not enough, I’m not going to take the knee.
“I’m not going to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of my shirt, because it feels like it’s a target. We’re trying to say we are equal but these things are not working anyway.”
Last week second-tier side Brentford said their players would no longer take a knee before matches and will find other ways to support racial equality, but would back other clubs that continue to kneel before games.
“Now I don’t really tend to speak on racism aspects because I’m not here just to tick boxes,” Zaha added. “Unless there’s change, don’t ask me about it. Unless action is going to happen I don’t want to hear about it.”
Premier League players have also been racially abused online, prompting English soccer bodies to put pressure on social media companies to tackle the problem.
Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, Chelsea’s Reece James, Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah, West Bromwich Albion’s Romaine Sawyers and Southampton’s Alex Jankewitz have all been victims in recent weeks.
“Increasingly this type of abuse towards Black players is becoming normalised,” Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham said at the summit, adding that the London club provides support to its players and reports abuse to the police.
“We can’t do this alone. How do you explain to a Black footballer that pirated content is taken down in minutes but not racist abuse?”
Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Ken Ferris
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