View from Westminster: Footballers are as entitled to have political views as anyone else

News Desk (04 August, 2021)

'Our team didn’t win, but showed great promise for the future and conducted themselves in a way that set an outstanding example to young people'

31615Harriet Harman

People across Southwark have had particular reason to be caught up in two massive sporting events this summer, writes Camberwell and Peckham MP Harriet Harman…

Last month, the nation was gripped watching the Euros and we all felt such pride as England’s young side fought their way to the final.  Our team didn’t win, but showed great promise for the future and conducted themselves in a way that set an outstanding example to young people.

The players braved controversy when they ‘took the knee’ before matches to protest racial inequality.  They were doing it as a team.  Both those black players who had been subjected to racial abuse on and off the pitch and their white team mates who – though not having been subjected to it themselves – deplored racism directed at any of the players and wanted to show solidarity with those who had.

It was deplorable that some of the England fans booed their team’s taking the knee and I, along with many other politicians, loudly denounced the booing.  Some people took to social media to condemn the taking of the knee, complaining it was ‘political’.  Footballers are no less entitled than anyone else to have political views and to express their opinions in whatever way they want.  This is a democracy and people have freedom of speech and thought.  Democratic politics is how this country is run and should be celebrated not swept under the carpet.

But it was particularly objectionable that some people chose to complain that footballers were protesting about racism.  This country is still not equal.  Black people are still subjected to discrimination and it is right to protest about this.  It completely proved the England team’s point when some people took to social media to pour vile racist abuse on the young black England players.  The racist social media posts proved the point that the protests were, sadly, very much necessary.

There was an outpouring of support for the young black England footballers and I was delighted that Southwark Council decided to celebrate and support Jadon Sancho, who was born in Camberwell and played for Southwark at youth level, awarding him the highest municipal honour of Freedom of the London Borough of Southwark.

The spotlight fell again on Southwark’s sporting talent with the stunning performance of Kye Whyte from Peckham in the Men’s BMX racing event winning a Silver medal in the Tokyo Olympics.  This is a relatively new sport for the Olympics and it has rightly astonished people.  You have to see the videos of Kye Whyte racing to appreciate the incredible strength, courage and skill that it involves.  His medal is a testament to his years of dedication to training and of the unstinting support for him by his parents.

Kye is still only 21-years-old but he’s shown professionalism and persistence that mean that he’s assured of success for the future not only in his sport but in whatever path he chooses.  He was fortunate to have exceptional parents prepared to sacrifice whatever it took to support his training and competing.

Kye’s triumph is not only a cause for celebration but also puts the spotlight on how much more the government should do to ensure that local youngsters can enjoy and excel in sports without the family having to sacrifice.  Too many youngsters don’t get the chance to participate and compete.  Kye’s medal is a strong reminder that sports opportunities should be there in every locality for talented young people

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