Once again, England’s players, who have been frequent targets of online abuse and racism, were berated for taking the knee to draw attention to the pervasive scourge. While they knelt to a chorus of boos from the Polish crowd in the stands, Poland star Robert Lewandowski risked the wrath of his countrymen and supporters by pointing to the “RESPECT” symbol on his jersey.
The packed stands of about 60,000-strong were making their disapproval of the kneeling action heard at Warsaw’s Stadion Narodowy before England took on Poland when the Polish talismanic striker made the gesture. If they saw him, they showed no sign.
They did not just stop at the anti-racism protest but endeavoured to nearly drown out the England anthem by whistling while the “God Save The Queen” was being played.
Yet, the Three Lions were undaunted by the jeering crowd. They continued to take the knee as their public display of protest continues. It marks the second time the Three Lions faced boos for taking the knee in the last week, having been targeted by a hostile Hungarian crowd in similar circumstances in Budapest on Thursday, September 2.
In that case, though Gareth Southgate’s side went home with a 4-0 victory, the win was tarnished by ugly scenes as missiles, including cans of beer, were thrown onto the pitch while there were also claims of racist chants towards black players. FIFA has opened an investigation into the case.
In Warsaw, although Lewandowski and his players did not take the knee alongside England, the gifted striker instead chose to point to UEFA’s “RESPECT” symbol on his left arm. Along with their striker, Poland’s goalkeeper and former Arsenal stopper Wojciech Szczęsny was also pictured pleading with fans to stop jeering during the rendition of the national anthem.
As reported, at the end of the game Southgate’s side could not hold on to their slim lead as substitute Damian Szymanski headed in from close range in the 92nd minute after Harry Kane’s 30-yard thunderbolt had opened the scoring.
The kneeling as a sign of protest began last June after the death of George Floyd and an outpouring of anti-racist demonstrations across the western world. It also came amid a slew of racist incidents in the sport, including regular social media abuse of black players. A Kick It Out report in April showed abuse of footballers online had skyrocketed during the lockdown.
When Manchester United carried out its own survey over a 17-month period between September 2019 and February 2021, it was revealed that there was a 350 per cent increase in online abuse.
The Three Lions have faced an unfriendly reception from crowds, including thousands of England supporters, for their symbolic anti-racism gesture throughout the summer and Euro 2020.