‘A little less conversation’: An exploration of soccer fan attitudes towards ‘the knee’ protest and the anti-racism message

Kevin Dixon, Ellis Cashmore, Jamie Cleland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Taking the knee has become an enduring feature of many sports since 2020: it is a powerful social and political gesture signalling a resistance against racism, not only in sports but in all forms. The research sampled 1001 sports fans, inviting them to share their beliefs, experiences and perspectives on racism in football. In particular, they were asked whether the knee should remain an expression of the sport’s fight against racism. While 34.8% believed it was a worthwhile gesture and should remain, 65.2% opposed its continuance. The reasons are varied but shared a basic assumption: that the gesture has replaced the actual fight against racism. In other words, football has effectively done little to combat racism and instead offers a symbolic ritual of opposition. This finding contrasts with popular understandings of aversion to the knee, which presume it is a racist reaction. The present study concludes it is quite the opposite: fans accept football’s disapproval of racism but question the efficacy of the knee in countering it. “What change has it actually made?’ one fan asked rhetorically “‘We need action not continuous posturing’ demanded another. “A little less conversation.” The authors conclude: 1. Fans do not object to the sport they feel belongs to them being used to promote good causes. 2. While objectors to the knee are not motivated by racism, racism still has a residual presence in football. 3. Fans urge football’s organizing bodies to clamp down on racism with severe punishments rather than ground closures or fines. 4. Fans see the knee as window dressing, disguising football’s failure effectively to challenge racism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-32
Number of pages32
JournalSoccer & Society
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Aug 2022


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