Government clashes with cricket and football over ‘woke’ behaviour

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The England and Wales Cricket Board is under pressure to review its treatment of Ollie Robinson after the Prime Minister condemned its “over the top” suspension of the bowler over historical Twitter posts.

It came after Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, told the ECB it should “think again” over the tough sanction, saying the racist and sexist tweets were “over a decade old and written by a teenager”.

In a separate row between the Government and sporting bodies over “woke” behaviour, the England football team’s decision to carry on taking the knee when Euro 2020 starts this weekend was put under intense scrutiny.

Boris Johnson refused to condemn fans who booed players during the pre-match ritual, and senior MPs called on the Football Association to show “leadership” over an issue that is leaving supporters increasingly divided.

Robinson, 27, has been suspended indefinitely by the ECB pending a disciplinary investigation into social media posts he wrote in 2012 and 2013, which came to light when he made his Test debut at Lord’s last week.

The seamer apologised for the tweets, saying he was “embarrassed” and “ashamed” by what he had written in his teens, but has been offered no guarantees that his international career will continue.

Mr Dowden said that while the posts were “offensive and wrong”, the teenager who wrote them “is now a man and has rightly apologised. The ECB has gone over the top by suspending him and should think again”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “As Oliver Dowden set out, these were comments made more than a decade ago, written by someone as a teenager, and for which they have rightly apologised.”

The ECB declined to comment when asked about the ministers’ remarks.

Robinson, who took seven wickets and scored 42 runs during the first Test against New Zealand, has been told he will not figure in the second and final Test at Edgbaston, which starts on Thursday.

Craig Overton, his possible replacement in Birmingham, was himself banned for two matches after he was alleged to have told the then Sussex player Ashar Zaidi to “get back to your own country” in 2015. He has always denied making the comment.

Meanwhile the issue of taking the knee threatens to overshadow England’s Euro 2020 preparations, with increasing numbers of fans hostile to the gesture which has become a pre-match ritual over the past year.

Although players insist that dropping down on one knee before kick-off is simply a show of support for racial equality, others say it cannot be separated from the more radical politics of the Black Lives Matter movement.

One MP even compared taking the knee to England players being forced to make Nazi salutes before a 1938 match in Hitler’s Germany, saying “the mixing of politics and football had disastrous consequences”.

Analysis by Telegraph Sport suggests as many as 18 of the 24 teams taking part in the Euros will not be taking the knee, with several countries opting instead to back a politically neutral campaign supporting racial equality and human rights.

The toxic stand-off between Gareth Southgate’s team and its supporters intensified on Sunday when fans again loudly booed the gesture before the team’s final pre-tournament warm-up game against Romania.

Boris Johnson has said in the past that he would not take the knee because he does not believe in “gestures” and on Monday his official spokesman repeatedly refused to say it was wrong for fans to boo players if they objected to it.

Other senior ministers, including Mr Dowden, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab have said in the past that they would not take the knee and do not agree with it.

Amid fears the booing will continue when England take to the field for their Euro 2020 opener against Croatia on Sunday, MPs and England supporters have hit out at the FA over its handling of the row.

Clive Efford, a Labour member of the Digital, Culture, Media & Sport select committee and a former shadow sports minister, said the FA should have done more, whether that be appealing directly to England fans not to boo the gesture or proposing an alternative to it.

“[The FA] has never taken leadership,” Efford said. “It’s abdicated its responsibilities to the Premier League, the Football League, and now to Gareth Southgate and the England players over taking the knee.”

He added: “Did the FA discuss what would happen in this situation? If not, why not? And if they did discuss it, what was their conclusion? Because they are nowhere to be seen in this at the moment and they should be showing leadership.”

Steve Brine, a Conservative colleague of Efford’s, said the FA could have looked to put an “anti-racism badge” on players’ shirts or to have devised “a special armband”.

He added: “They could’ve done things but they’ve chosen not to have that fight.”

Brendan Clarke-Smith, the Conservative MP who drew the comparison between taking the knee and players making a Nazi salute in 1938, said: “The main point I’m trying to make is that we should be keeping politics and football separate.

“Whilst I have no doubt that the players have honourable intentions, I don’t think they fully appreciate that the political element of Black Lives Matter is inextricably linked to the other part and this is what is now causing conflict.”

His comments were described as “offensive” by a leading anti-Semitism campaigner.

The FA declined to comment but Telegraph Sport has been told it disputes it has not done enough to head off a row over taking the knee and believes Southgate and others have repeatedly articulated its own position.

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