Bassetlaw MP sparks controversy with comments comparing England footballers taking the knee to Nazi salutes
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Players faced boos ahead of their match against Romania on Sunday night - but vowed to continue taking the knee throughout the Euro 2020 tournament to show solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement against racism.
The Conservative MP’s comments, posted on his official Facebook page, were part of a lengthy post against racism and compared the gesture to footballers performing the Nazi salute during a 1938 match against Germany in Berlin.
Mr Clarke-Smith’s comments have attracted criticism from some people, including Danny Stone, the director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust.
He tweeted: “This is an ill-considered and offensive comparison which taken together with the additional comments demonstrate an urgent requirement for education. I hope the party will take action.”
Bassetlaw councillor Alan Rhodes said: “This is just daft. Whether it not you agree with the gesture, there is no comparison between players wanting to make a statement about racism in the game and in our society and the evil of Nazi Germany.”
Mr Clarke-Smith wrote that Sunday's friendly match against Romania had "special significance" for him due to his connections with the country, claiming the "ruthless communist regime" under Nicolae Ceausescu follows a similar "ideology" to those leading the BLM movement.
He said: “With many fleeing from a ruthless communist regime under Ceausescu, countless political opponents were marginalised or killed. Contraception and abortion were banned from the 1960s in order to tackle a demographic crisis and around 20,000 children are thought to have died in squalid orphanages,” he said about Romania‘s past.
He added: “It is precisely for this reason that this sort of ideology must not be glorified. It is also precisely the reason why Black Lives Matter, whose political goals have included crushing capitalism, defunding the police, destroying the nuclear family and attacking Israel are far more than simply an organisation fighting against racism – they have in fact shown they have some quite sinister motives.”
He added that mixing politics and football has had “disastrous consequences” in the past and called for politics to be kept out of the sport.
Mr Clarke-Smith said: “In short, regardless of the insistence of Southgate and others that the players kneeling is nothing to do with the political movement, the fact that the brand has been displayed on their shirts and on our television screens has made it impossible to separate the two. They are now inextricably linked.
“Do I believe that Raheem Sterling wants us to take control of the means of production? Of course not. Do any of us think that Jack Grealish is trying to topple the bourgeoisie or that Harry Kane wants the state to step in and nationalise Spurs? No, absolutely not.
“Again, whilst the intention may be admirable and we all want to put a stop to racism in football and wider society, it now comes across as little more than habitual tokenism and has lost its effect. The only effect we see now is of a divisive and confrontational matter.
“Let’s travel back in time to Berlin in 1938. England had travelled to Germany to play the national team, after controversially hosting them in 1935 at White Hart Lane. Despite protest, that initial game went ahead and both the Home Secretary and the FA made a point of keeping football independent of politics.
“Germany had annexed Austria at that point and political tensions were running high. Following the 1936 Berlin Olympics being used as a propaganda exercise and under a great deal of pressure from both the FA and Britain’s ambassador at the time, the players were encouraged to join the hosts in making the Nazi salute prior to the match.
“England players, including the great Sir Stanley Matthews, were not impressed and did not want to do it. However, they had been reassured that it was merely a formal gesture of courtesy and that it did not mean an endorsement of the regime.
“Reluctantly, they agreed and for many years since it has been a great source of shame for many of those involved, including the Football Association. In more recent times we have seen the same ‘Roman salute’ by Paolo Di Canio at Lazio, who was later reported to have said “I am a fascist, not a racist”.
“The point here is that regardless of the original intention, the mixing of politics and football had disastrous consequences. Symbolism means a lot, both in football and wider society, and we must think carefully about how it is used.
“So do our players really want to carry the political baggage that comes with taking the knee? I doubt any do. But perhaps it’s time to stop and think for once. There are better ways than this. Let’s learn from history, find something we can all support and at the same time keep politics out of football.
“Once the whistle blows for kick off I’ll be supporting my country this summer regardless of their pre-match stance. But as things currently stand, before the game kicks off and at half time my television will be switched off. Listening works both ways and perhaps that’s the only way they’ll listen too.”
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