England boss Gareth Southgate has hit back at suggestions he and his players should “stick to football” amid debate over their decision to take the knee before games.
The Three Lions’ squad and staff have shown their support for the global movement to eradicate racism by kneeling prior to recent fixtures.
However, boos and jeers were heard from sections of the crowd when England offered up the gesture prior to European Championship warm-up games against Romania and Austria.
That backlash has prompted a debate over whether Southgate and his squad should be supporting a movement that is considered political in some quarters.
But the England manager pushed back on that idea in a stirring pre-tournament column for the Players’ Tribune.
He wrote: “Our players are role models. And, beyond the confines of the pitch, we must recognise the impact they can have on society.
“We must give them the confidence to stand up for their teammates and the things that matter to them as people.
“I have never believed that we should just stick to football.
“I know my voice carries weight, not because of who I am but because of the position that I hold. At home, I’m below the kids and the dogs in the pecking order but publicly I am the England men’s football team manager. I have a responsibility to the wider community to use my voice, and so do the players.
“It’s their duty to continue to interact with the public on matters such as equality, inclusivity and racial injustice, while using the power of their voices to help put debates on the table, raise awareness and educate.”
The topic of abuse on social media – particularly racial abuse – has also been widely discussed in the aftermath of a recent uptick in such incidents.
Southgate admits he does not understand why his high-profile players engage with such platforms but remains certain that those who troll them are on the “losing side” of the battle.
“Social media has been a key resource in giving our players a platform and has been a positive tool in so many ways,” he added.
“In fact, I feel like this generation of England players is closer to the supporters than they have been for decades. Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you on many issues.
“That said, there are times when my parental instincts kick in. I can’t help it. After all, I’m old enough to be a father to most of my players!
“I see players scrolling on their phones straight after the final whistle and I think … Hmmm, is that a particularly good idea?
“Reading abusive comments on Twitter or Instagram is never going to help performance.
“There are genuine risks for our players online and I will always want to protect them, but I would never put rules on how or when they use their accounts while on England duty. I trust them and know they are mature enough to make their own decisions, to do what’s right for their mental health and to keep being a force for good as we strive for a better society.
“The last 18 months have put added pressure on everyone, I know. Venting that might have taken place while walking out of the stadium, or in the pub has been transferred online. I get that. However, there are things I will never understand.
“Why would you tag someone in on a conversation that is abusive?
“Why would you choose to insult somebody for something as ridiculous as the colour of their skin?
“Unfortunately for those people that engage in that kind of behaviour, I have some bad news. You’re on the losing side. It’s clear to me that we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that.
“It might not feel like it at times, but it’s true. The awareness around inequality and the discussions on race have gone to a different level in the last 12 months alone.
“I am confident that young kids of today will grow up baffled by old attitudes and ways of thinking.”
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