Yesterday, the Premier League reaffirmed its commitment to its anti-racism campaign, which it said was everything but political, even though the league was “aware of the risk posed by groups that seek to hijack popular causes and campaigns”.
The league also issued a statement just yesterday, after its chief executive Richard Masters was questioned by British lawmakers at a hearing about its support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement.
At the hearing of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) Committee, Masters preserved players’ and clubs’ collective decision to wear ‘Black Lives Matter’ on their shirts, describing the reason as a right and moral one.
Soccer Football - Premier League - Manchester City v Burnley - Etihad Stadium, Manchester, Britain - June 22, 2020 Burnley manager Sean Dyche and staff take a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign before the match, as play resumes behind closed doors following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease. Image credit Michael Regan, Pool via REUTERS
These statements come after that all players had “Black Lives Matter” on their shirts instead of their names in the opening round of games, when the league was eventually able to restart the matches earlier in June, after a three-month stoppage due to the current pandemic.
Nonetheless, the players have continued to take a knee before kickoff in support of BLM.
The Premier league emphasised the support with the Black Lives Matters and the worldwide protests, claiming: "The Premier League offered this backing as we wholly agree with the players' single objective of eradicating racial prejudice wherever it exists”.
Therefore, players will continue to wear Black Lives Matter logos on their shirt sleeves until the end of the sports season, but the league also explained that this support had no connection with political groups linked to the movement.
One group, ‘UKBLM’, which has raised more than 1 million pounds through a GoFundMe appeal, calls for the dismantling of capitalism, tweeting about defunding the police through a series of social media posts about issues concerning Israel/Palestine.
Image credit BBC
For this reason, the league pointed out: “We are aware of the risk posed by groups that seek to hijack popular causes and campaigns to promote their political views”.
“These actions are entirely unwelcome and are rejected by the Premier League and all other professional football bodies, and they underline the importance of our sport coming together to declare a very clear position against prejudice.
“We want our message to be a positive one that recognises football has the power to bring people together.”
At the DCMS hearing, Conservative MP Steve Brine also emphasised the apolitical support demonstrated by the league, claiming that the league’s care for the BLM movement appeared to mark a shift from its previous opposition to political messages in the sport.
He also highlighted previous cases of politics in English football, such as when Arsenal distanced themselves from Mesut Ozil’s support for the Uighur Muslim population in China and when the league fined Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of Catalan independence campaigners.
“How did we get from Ozil and Pep to Black Lives Matter, and can the Premier League players and managers now be assured that anything goes if they have a cause that they feel strongly about and the Premier League will not take action against them?” Brine asked Masters.
“I think we are living in unprecedented times,” Masters responded.
Feature image courtesy: Twitter, @HectorBellerin
“Players are used to being the message board for other people’s messages and on this occasion, they wanted to make two very clear statements as players, supported by the Premier League and the clubs: Thanking the NHS (National Health Service)... and also recognising the issues that are going around the world and the support of the sentiment of Black Lives Matter,” he explained. “We listened and are happy to support them.
“I don’t think it sets any particular precedent. I think it is perfectly possible to support Black Lives Matter the sentiment without being seen to support any political organisation,” he added.
“We are an apolitical organisation - we don’t support political organisations.”
Masters also wanted to point out that if players got involved in any political messaging on the field without an agreement they would remain in breach of regulations and could face fines.
Labour MP Julie Elliott said she was quite concerned about Masters’ explanation.
“I think you are opening up a can of worms by how you have responded to those questions,” she admitted.