Football players in England’s Premier League marked its return after a 100-day stoppage due to coronavirus on Wednesday, by taking a knee at kickoff to show support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. All the players from teams Aston Villa and Sheffield United had the words “Black Lives Matter,” replacing their names on the back of their shirts.
The league on Friday announced it was joining the international protest campaign against police brutality, sparked by the death last month of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police officers.
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The “take a knee” protests began in 2016 with US NFL player Colin Kaepernick.
“Both clubs hope that the act of ‘taking a knee’ will send a strong message of unity and amplify the many messages of support from Premier League players and the wider football family,” the two teams said in a statement published minutes after the act.
All the players from teams Aston Villa and Sheffield United had the words “Black Lives Matter,” replacing their names on the back of their shirts
Game on but no fans allowed
The kneeling protest followed a moment’s silence at the Villa Park stadium, in the city of Birmingham, before kickoff in memory of those who died in the coronavirus pandemic. Football games were canceled in the UK from March 13, as the country brought in measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus. So far, over 42,000 have died from the virus in the country — the third highest death toll worldwide.
For Wednesday’s game, only 300 people were allowed inside the stadium, in a bid to reduce the chance of infection. Strict hygiene measures were also in place. The match was the first of 92 to be played in the next six weeks to finish the interrupted Premier League season.
Premier league’s Rashford forces social policy change
Kickoff came after Premier League player Marcus Rashford forced a British government U-turn on its coronavirus free-school meals program for schoolchildren.
England striker Rashford campaigned for a program providing meal vouchers to poor children at home to be extended through the approaching summer holidays.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government had initially resisted making the change, which would see 1.3 million children in England receive vouchers for an extra six weeks.
“I don’t even know what to say. Just look at what we can do when we come together, THIS is England in 2020,” tweeted Rashford, in response.
kmm/sri (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)