Les Ferdinand has defended Queens Park Rangers’ decision not to take the knee before their Championship fixture against Coventry on Friday, saying the gesture has become “little more than good PR”.
Ferdinand, the only Black director of football in the senior English game, spoke out against a slew of media coverage that had criticised QPR for not taking the knee. He said media organisations should “be looking more inwardly” at the inequalities in their own industries, than criticising the club for an action approved within EFL guidelines.
“Taking the knee was very powerful but we feel that impact has now been diluted,” Ferdinand said. “In the same way ‘Clap For Carers’ was very emotional for us all, it got to a stage where it had run its natural course and the decision was rightly made to stop it.
“Does that mean we, as a nation, don’t care or appreciate our NHS workers? Of course it doesn’t. No one is more passionate than me about this topic. I have spoken on the matter throughout my footballing life.
“Recently, I took the decision not to do any more interviews on racism in football because the debate was going around in circles. People want a nice soundbite when something happens, but how many of the media who have criticised QPR over the past 48 hours genuinely want change?
“The taking of the knee has reached a point of ‘good PR’ but little more than that. The message has been lost. It is now not dissimilar to a fancy hashtag or a nice pin badge.
“What are our plans with this? Will people be happy for players to take the knee for the next 10 years but see no actual progress made? Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game – actions will.”
Ferdinand drew comparison to his club’s call for action last year after their youth team abandoned a game during a tour of Spain, saying they experienced racist abuse. QPR made an official complaint but say nothing was done.
“What media coverage has been given to that? Not nearly as much as what has been granted to QPR not taking a knee,” Ferdinand said. “Don’t judge us. Simple research and evidence will show you we are doing more than most. If you want change, judge yourselves.”
The former England defender Micah Richards responded to Ferdinand’s comments during Sky’s Monday Night Football programme. “It’s the magic question, how long do you want to [take a knee] for? For me, you’ve got do it until everyone agrees … we all need to work together, we all need to understand there is a problem [with racism], not just at the lower level, at the top level.”
Richards also spoke out about social media comments aimed at himself and fellow pundit Alex Scott. “I’ve got people on Twitter, Instagram [saying] ‘Micah Richards is only on air because of this whole Black Lives Matter movement’ … which is disheartening for me because I put in the work. I’ve been a professional footballer, I’ve played at the highest level and I’m still getting stones thrown at me.
“It’s even worse for [Alex] because she’s a woman and she’s seen as black, it’s double jeopardy for her. She’s one of the best pundits I’ve ever worked with, and all you see on Twitter is, ‘what’s a woman doing working in men’s football?’ She’s played for England, she knows the game inside out. It just shows we’ve still got a problem.”
Taking the knee, imitating a protest begun by Colin Kaepernick in 2016, has become part of football’s pre-match rituals since the Covid-19 restart in June, supported extensively by players and also by league competitions.
Of the 37 league matches played on Saturday, teams chose not to take the knee in 16. EFL guidelines state such a decision is in the gift of clubs, as long as their decision is communicated to opponents. At the start of the season, the Premier League said it would “continue to support players who ‘take a knee’ at matches”.
Kick It Out’s chair, Sanjay Bhandari, said: “We encourage the players to continue to protest in whatever form they feel comfortable and to do so free of the risk of sanction … I agree with [QPR] that we need to focus on action that creates real change. We should be talking about solutions, not symbols.”