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A friction point in racism battle: Arsenal taking knee, Slavia Praha standing

The image of a kneeling Lacazette has become another rallying point in the fight against racism.

Written by Shahid Judge , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai |
Updated: April 18, 2021 10:05:34 am
Alexandre Lacazette, left, takes the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement prior to the Europa League quarter final second leg soccer match between Slavia Prague and Arsenal at the Sinobo stadium in Prague, Czech Republic, Thursday, April 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette strode to the centre, took a knee and stared into the faces of Slavia Praha players just before kick-off in the second leg of their Europa League quarter final tie. A team taking a knee ahead of a football match, an anti-racist gesture in line with the Black Lives Matter Movement, is not new.

But Lacazette, joined by other players, was staring down at a team which chose to stand and has a player banned recently by UEFA for alleged racism. For the game, Slavia Praha fielded all white players in the starting XI. The London-based Arsenal won the away game 4-0 (5-1 on aggregate), with French striker Lacazette scoring twice. The image of a kneeling Lacazette has become another rallying point in the fight against racism.

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Why prompted Arsenal to take a knee?

As it turns out, Arsenal taking the knee ahead of the match was premeditated. “(The players) asked me and the club that they wanted to take that initiative,” manager Mikel Arteta said, according to The Guardian.

“They had the right reasons for it, so the club was very supportive. I think it was a good gesture. We spoke with the club to make sure we could follow the rules of UEFA… I must say UEFA was very supportive as well.”

It is assumed Lacazette and the Arsenal players took the decision because of a racist incident that marred Slavia Praha’s Europa League tie against Rangers last month. Praha’s defender Ondrej Kudela had covered his mouth while allegedly using a racist slur directed at Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara, a former Arsenal player. UEFA, the governing body, following an investigation, handed the Czech player a 10-match ban, the minimum sanction for a player found guilty of racist abuse.

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What was Slavia Praha’s reaction to a player being banned?

The Prague-based club’s chairman, Jaroslav Tvrdik issued a statement.

“We respect the decision. In any case, Ondrej Kudela should not have approached the opposition player,” the statement read. “I deeply regret that and apologise to Glen Kamara for a situation that has clearly caused distress to him and his teammates, as well as everyone associated with Slavia and Rangers. I am taking positive steps to prevent such a situation from happening in our club again.”

However, a high-standing official in Czech Republic, in light of the incident, accused UEFA of “hypocrisy” and claimed non-black players will now be “discriminated against.”

“I note that racism is unproven and alleged. Nevertheless, you have decided on a completely unprecedented punishment for a player who did not harm anyone and only verbally – according to his statement – offended his opponent,” read a statement by Vratislav Mynar, who heads the Office of the President of the Republic, as reported by The Guardian.

“All this just to fulfil the perverted expectations of a small group of activists and a club unable to win on the field, all the more so by shouting empty and hurtful phrases about racism…. Your efforts can lead to the opposite, a situation where a person with a colour other than black will be discriminated against, oppressed and deprived of their rights. That is why I also consider it necessary to oppose this procedure.”

Did Arsenal break rules?

None at all. While some leagues like the Premier League have encouraged teams to take the knee before matches, UEFA has made it an optional exercise in continental club competitions, the Champions League and Europa League.

Earlier, during a Champions League group stage match at the Stade Velodrome between Marseille and Manchester City, the hosts remained standing while the English team took the knee before the match.

Is ‘taking a knee’ still a common form of protest in English football?

Not entirely. Just last month, Crystal Palace’s star forward Wilfred Zaha refused to take a knee henceforth. “There is no right or wrong decision, but for me personally I feel keeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse. As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools, and social media companies should be taking stronger action against people who abuse others online – not just footballers,” Zaha said in a statement.

Last month, former Arsenal and French striker Thierry Henry quit social media after alleging companies have not done enough to reduce racist abuse issued online. The BBC reported that Championship team Queens Park Rangers, last September, made the decision to stop kneeling before matches because the ‘message had been lost.’

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