Anthony Watson has hit back at criticism directed at England players for taking a knee before their Six Nations defeat by Scotland, condemning the "double standards" and highlighting the need to raise awareness of social injustice.
Watson was one of 16 England players to take a knee before England’s Calcutta Cup defeat with the Six Nations marking each match with a moment of silence to recognise the fight against racism prior to kick-off. He has since tweeted in response to someone claiming “not to care” who England are playing next “if some of them are starting the match from a kneeling position”.
Watson believes that much of the criticism comes from a lack of education over what taking a knee represents, making the distinction between the anti-racism gesture – made famous by the American football player Colin Kaepernick – and the Black Lives Matter organisation.
He also expressed his frustration at what he perceives to be sportsmen and women being encouraged to express their opinions and subsequently facing criticism for doing so. “I just feel very strongly that it’s a double standard at the moment,” he said. “Everyone wants athletes to have opinions and express themselves, then when they do, a lot of people are shot in the foot for it or even more serious things can come from it.
“Particularly with the kneeling stuff and the Black Lives Matter stuff, I think that if people were educated fully on why kneeling was started, then they would be in a much better place to comment on what we are doing and what is going on. Not everyone who is kneeling is directly associated with the Black Lives Matter organisation because some of their views, in my opinion, are extreme. But the importance of kneeling to raise awareness of social injustice, I think is still massively important. So to see people on social media trying to discredit its importance … I can’t let that slide.
“My point is that people don’t really understand that not everyone who is kneeling is directly correlated to the Black Lives Matter organisation. People just want to jump on that because it is their way of disagreeing with it instantly and, for me personally, I can’t let that slide.”
Both the Rugby Football Union and the Six Nations insist it is an individual choice as to whether players take a knee during the moment’s silence. Having the freedom to choose seems to have caused confusion in some quarters, however. Four Scotland players took a knee before their victory over England with the head coach Gregor Townsend later claiming “half the squad didn’t even realise that some of their teammates and the English players were taking the knee”. There was a moment’s silence before France’s win over Italy and Wales’ victory over Ireland but in both instances no players took a knee.
“Six Nations Rugby and its participating unions are united in the fight against racism,” read a statement from the Six Nations organisers. “It was agreed ahead of the championship that we would continue to mark our position through a moment of silence and an on-screen message ahead of the national anthems. In line with our approach during the Autumn Nations Cup there was no request to take a knee. It is important that players are free to demonstrate their support for this important issue in the way they see fit. It is an entirely personal decision and we respect each players’ right to make that choice.” – Guardian