Boris Johnson Urges U.K. Soccer Fans Not to Boo Players Taking Knee

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Boris Johnson urged soccer fans not to boo English players for “taking the knee” in their protest against racism, seeking to defuse a growing row ahead of the European Championships starting Friday.

The British prime minister triggered a backlash this week when a spokesman urged people to be “respectful” but didn’t outright condemn fans booing the gesture, in which players kneel on one knee to highlight racial injustice.

For Johnson’s critics, including his political opponents in the Labour Party, the remarks confirmed the impression of a leader happy to fuel so-called culture wars. Johnson has previously defended his own use of allegedly racist language in newspaper articles, and insisted that British history should not be “photoshopped,” at a time of widespread Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations against the slave trade.

Boris Johnson Urges U.K. Soccer Fans Not to Boo Players Taking Knee

With the premier hosting Group of Seven leaders in Cornwall, southwest England, his office sought to end the controversy on Friday.

‘Cheer Them On’

Johnson “would like to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo,” his spokesman, Jamie Davies, told reporters.

The championship, delayed from last year because of the pandemic, begins Friday evening when Italy plays Turkey in Rome. Wales plays its first match on Saturday, against Switzerland; England begins its campaign against Croatia on Sunday, and Scotland’s debut comes on Monday against the Czech Republic. Northern Ireland didn’t qualify.

“The prime minister wishes all the home nation teams success,” Davies said. “I’m sure you’ll see a tweet or two throughout the tournament.”

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