WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

England's players to decide on taking a knee - Southgate

England will be unified in whatever way they choose to protest racial abuse prior to kick-off against San Marino, says manager Gareth Southgate.

England's players to decide on taking a knee - Southgate

England manager Gareth Southgate has left it up to his players to decide whether they want to take the knee prior to kick-off against San Marino. The Three Lions start their qualification campaign for the 2022 World Cup with a fixture against the European minnows on Thursday at Wembley.

Players targetted on social media

Since Project Restart last June, teams across Britain have taken a knee prior to the start of matches in a show of unity against racial abuse and discrimination. However, with fans still unable to attend matches, the abuse received by players of ethnic minorities has not been stemmed, with several England stars having been the victims of abuse on social media. Jude Bellingham – Borussia Dortmund's 17-year-old midfielder, being the latest. 

Several club sides have now stopped taking a knee before matches, while Crystal Palace star Wilfried Zaha recently claimed the symbol was nothing but a token gesture which does not go far enough to tackle the problem. Last week, former England midfielder and current Rangers manager Steven Gerrard demanded UEFA take action after Glen Kamara alleged to have been abused by Slavia Prague's Ondrej Kudela, who played as the Czech Republic thrashed Estonia on Wednesday.

Racism in society is complex issue

When asked if England would be taking a knee, Southgate told a press conference: "I've spoken with the leadership team about this last night and I've asked them to talk with the other players. I think it's a good process to hear each others' views first and foremost and that's part of how we educate ourselves in all of these different matters and issues. The one thing we're very clear on is that we'll be unified in whatever we do and if there's any doubt then I think we'll take the knee.

"I'm hugely respectful of everybody's individual opinions on that," he continued. "I think there's still an impact from it but I listened to Wilfried Zaha's comments on it, for example, and I thought he spoke really well that it wasn't enough and it seemed to now be just part of the background. It's complicated, the debate around whether we should take the knee or not, or walk off the pitch. The core problems are with racism and discrimination – they're the deeper conversations that need to happen. The protests help put those conversations on the table but we've got to address the much deeper issues as much as we have to make a symbolic gesture."

Social media and racism

Southgate was also asked if players would be best advised to delete social media channels to avoid abuse, though the England manager does not believe that to be a solution. "The first thing is that clearly it's unacceptable for anybody to be receiving this sort of abuse," he said. "It's a very complex situation for what action the players might take because [social media] is a brilliant tool for communicating with the fans. With no fans in the stadiums, to lose all contact with the fans is not something we want. Equally if that interaction is bringing that negativity and abuse into your life, nobody wants to put up with that. We need stricter legislation around the control of those sites. I know that's a complex issue because of people in countries not to have a freedom of speech is a restriction. It's not an easy thing to police because it can be worldwide. We just need to make a stand on everything to say racism is not acceptable."