• Elliott Peeters-Vanstone

Taking the Knee: Wilfried Zaha Longs for Fellow Players to “Stand Tall” against racism

Crystal Palace star man Wilfried Zaha has ignited debate across the football world, as he urges his fellow players to “stand tall” against racism and stop taking the knee before games.

After becoming the first Premier League footballer to openly admit he will stop taking the knee, the 28-year-old forward has followed the precedent set by championship clubs Brentford and Bournemouth by stating “it is just something we do now”.

Zaha, who has not been afraid to voice his concerns throughout the Black Lives Matter protest is figure-heading the demand for change across the Premier League. The Palace forward has brought to the world’s attention that taking the knee is becoming more and more tokenistic as every Premier League match week comes to an end.

It is without a doubt that the issue of racism in football is beginning to be addressed. However, the recent unfolding’s on social media surrounding players like Axel Tuanzebe and Anthony Martial have illuminated that football is still intertwined with racism and is going to require a serious upheaval in order to change and be regulated properly. The question is, what can the Premier League footballing body do to reinvigorate the support for BLM and finally kick racism out of football for good?

Wilfried Zaha’s statements do raise a really important point, that being whether the purpose of taking the knee has already been met. The action of taking the knee was employed specifically to call attention to the issues of racial inequality within the sport, which to an extent has been done. Fans across the globe are talking about the BLM movement and players like Wilfried Zaha are being catapulted into the forefront of the media’s gaze as activists and not victims.

Although this alone will not eradicate racism from our beautiful game, it has clarified that this was an important step towards changing football for the better. Nevertheless, it is still vitally important that we understand where football is lacking in order to promote change that will be sustainable and ultimately have a lasting impact on clubs, players and fans alike.

It is clear that in the modern era, social media has grown into a breeding ground for targeted racial abuse and I believe this is where football must focus their efforts in order to make a significant and lasting impact.

Notably this month, football clubs made important strides forwards in this department, as they planned a weeklong social media boycott which has been discussed with EFL chairmen and chief executives in a bid to push platforms to clean up their sites and stop anonymous trolling. While this move certainly created waves within world football, it once again emphasised that football's fight against racism is merely in its infancy and will require continued attention throughout the coming years to really establish change.

The severity of the issue is the reason why players like Wilfried Zaha are so important. The constant production of young inspiring black footballing talents is arguably the most critical action that can be taken to counteract the considerable levels of racist abuse that reside within our game.

At the current moment, only 19% of professional players in England are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, which doesn’t reflect the truly diverse nature of our current society. The Premier League and the EFL must work in unison in order to challenge the underrepresentation within football and offer ample support for the promising BAME footballing talents that will grow to inspire future generations of players and fans. From grassroots to the professional level, all respective footballing bodies must begin to ensure that football sees its leagues adequately represented if we are to stand any chance of kicking racism out of our game for good.

With that being said, it would be foolish to deny the impact of taking the knee. However, I am certainly inclined to agree with Wilfried Zaha in his belief that taking the knee is just not enough anymore. We as a collective fanbase of sport need to commit and support the amendment of our game from the ground upwards. In order to truly bring about change that is sustainable and enduring rather than just ticking a box.


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