Fans boo players on England's men's national soccer team for kneeling before games

Critics say British Prime Minister Boris Johnson should have outright condemned the booing.
England national football team. Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, England. June 6, 2021.
(PAUL ELLIS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The English men's national soccer team is getting booed by fans for players taking a knee in recent games to call attention to racial injustice – a gesture that started in the U.S. and has spread to professional sports around the world.

The players have knelt on one knee in at least two practice matches in preparation for the European Championships that began Friday.

Observers say the controversy was fueled by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson responding to the fans by saying through a spokesperson he "would like to see everyone getting behind the team to cheer them on, not boo."

Critics say Johnson should have outright condemned the booing.

The spokesperson told NBC News that Johnson "believes in taking action rather than just making gestures."

The official governing body of English soccer, the Football Association, and the Free Lions, a group of fans in England and Wales, have each publicly opposes the booing and say it is coming from a "minority of the England crowd,” NBC also reports. 

The games are being held in 11 European cities with the final July 11 in London's Wembley Stadium, home of the English national team.

Professional athletes kneeling before the start of the game to recognize social injustices effectively began as far back as 2016 when then-San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick began making the gesture before games during the playing of the U.S. national anthem.