Premier League players are divided on whether to keep the Black Lives Matter (BLM) slogan on their shirts and have left a decision on the sensitive issue until just days before the new season. The Premier League has said the decision rests with the players, whose views will be aired at a pre-season meeting of the club captains this week. The Mail on Sunday understands that some players want to continue with the slogan. The representative of one BAME player indicated that the individual in question felt ‘very strongly’ about the slogan’s part in the ongoing fight against bigotry and two lead. But several sources have said that players are aware of the controversy the message attracted last season when the BLM message was hijacked by a group of extreme activists. They do not want to put themselves at the centre of an ongoing controversy and feel that would be counter-productive. There will be a wish to ensure that black and minority ethnic players are given a strong voice in the decision. Yet only two of the 20 Premier League captains are BAME: Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Leicester City’s Wes Morgan, who also sits on the league’s Black Participants Advisory Group. Kick it Out last week reported 446 incidences of abuse during the 2019-20 season – a 42 per cent increase on the previous campaign – and the organisation’s head of development Troy Townsend said last night that he hoped the shirt slogan would be kept for the new season. He said: ‘We should not let people hijack it. It’s a message through which players have taken it upon themselves to show solidarity to their teammates – not a political message – and it’s cheap to align that to some political movement. Unfortunately, the decision has come down to the wire but I think the captains will drive the message of solidarity. I hope they are not spoken down.’ Both Townsend and Kick it Out chairman Sanjay Bhandari said that nothing had changed since the death of George Floyd in the US on May 25 became a catalyst for the show of solidarity in which Premier League players decided to wear the BLM message instead of their names on shirts. Bhandari said: ‘Racial injustice and inequality didn’t just finish at the end of the season. The players’ greatest power is to push for change and how they do that should be driven by them.’ A decision has been left to the last minute because players have only just returned to training. But it is a more complex one than the decision on whether to take knee – which is set to continue when the new season starts. The Premier League Black Lives Matter logo – designed by Alisha Hosannah, partner of the Watford striker Troy Deeney – was intended simply to send the message that it is unacceptable to treat black people differently to anyone else. But a series of tweets from a ‘Black Lives Matter UK’ account included anti-Israel messages, with calls to de-fund the police and remove Met Commissioner Cressida Dick. The group’s Twitter feed has hijacked the distinctive black and yellow colour scheme of the original US campaign and has built 77,000 followers, with a crowdfunding campaign which has attracted donations of more than £1million. The group has refused to disclose whom its leaders are. Some players feel strongly that this extreme fringe group should not be allowed to block a message which many feel strongly about. Bhandari said: ‘The sentiments of the Black Lives Matter movement mean different things in different countries. In the context of British football, we want to see more black coaches, more Asian players, boardrooms that are not all white and all male and reductions in discrimination and an end to online hate. What we now have to do is translate gestures into action because gestures on their own are meaningless.’ Townsend cited the boycotts staged by NBA and NFL stars and tennis player Naomi Osaka over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, as evidence of the need to maintain solidarity here. ‘The level of protest has only progressed since the end of last season,’ he said. The Premier League issued a statement when the rogue group’s activities came to light, saying it was ‘aware of the risk posed by groups that seek to hijack popular causes to promote their own political views’ and that ‘these actions are entirely unwelcome and are rejected.’ A compromise on the Black Lives Matter slogan would be the introduction of an alternative type of anti-racism messaging on shirts, though the imminent start of the season creates little time to design and agree on one. Logistically, it is not a problem that the decision will be reached possibly 72 hours before the first games of the new campaign. Two shirts must be prepared for each player in the 30-man squads and the task of embossing either players’ names or a slogan is one day’s work for Premier League clubs’ kit staff.
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