England beat Denmark in the semi-finals of the European Football Cup and will now play Italy in the final on Sunday, July 11. For the last few weeks, the Euro matches have filled the TV-equipped pubs and emptied the streets, apart from honking cars deep into the night after the victories.
Very many Brexitwallas regard this contest as political metaphor, with England’s victories being punishment for the recent stances of the European Union on vaccines, sausages and regulations affecting Northern Ireland.
In British league games and now in the European tournament the teams, before each game, “take the knee”. This ceremonial began after the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police and this kneeling on one foot is a demonstration of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and symbolises a demonstration of opposition to all forms of racism.
Nevertheless, some fans, recently allowed back into the stadiums after the relaxation of Covid regulations, choose to boo the teams as they perform the ritual. There are several explanations for this rude opposition. Some of those who boo must be out and out racists, even opposed to black players in the team. Other may just feel that the importation of a political gesture into their sporting pastime is not necessary.
Commentators in the extreme right-wing British press attempt to excuse the booing protesters by characterising the kneeling teams, all of whom are composed of both black and white players, as “virtue signallers”.
Most of the players who “take the knee” will probably be content to give support to the gesture, win or lose their games and go home to their prosperous existences. The knee is certainly symbolic.
So it was with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, the black American athletes who stood on the winners’ podium in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City and raised their black-gloved fists to demonstrate their solidarity with the US civil rights movement. It is more than likely that those two athletes were not simply signalling their virtue but had through their lives in the United States confronted and battled against the American racist reality.
The only argument against “virtue signalling”, which takes myriad forms in today’s world, is that it stops at the gesture and does nothing more to put right the wrong that it symbolically attacks.
In some cases, there is nothing more that the signaller can really do. It’s difficult to see what the footballers who “take the knee” can do to combat racism outside the football stadium.
Yes, the football clubs have come down hard on the idiots who make monkey noises and even throw banana skins when black footballers come on. This racist nastiness used to be prevalent in very many clubs and has now, through the insistence of players and the management and fear of expulsion on the part of the racists, not gone away but gone into purdah.
Some who take the knee have gone further. Marcus Rashford, a Manchester United player now in the England squad, has campaigned in the last year for the government to continue to provide free school meals to those children from poorer families who were forced, through the Covid closure of schools, to stay at home. His stature as a football icon compelled Prime Minister Boris Johnson to accede to his demand. Britain’s Oliver Twists were fed their free lunches.
Feeding hungry children who would otherwise go without an afternoon meal may have nothing, apparently, to do with Black Lives Matter and taking the knee, but I am sure that Rashford was inspired by his own memories and the large proportion of black children from poor families when he initiated his campaign.
There are other forms of virtue signalling which strike one as hypocritical.
Politicians who take to riding bicycles to demonstrate that they are doing their bit for global warming and in their official capacity set their policies against the reduction of harmful atmospheric emissions are part of this hypocritical brigade. Gentle reader, am I thinking of someone whose name is shortened to rhyme with Mojo? Yes, I am!
But perhaps I am being unfair. Boris Johnson may very well be riding a bike around town to sweat off some of his bulk and not to reduce the emission of toxic gases as he might emit some of these in his vigorous, slimming endeavours.
There are harmless forms of virtue signalling such as the determination of some of my friends never to drive a car and to travel by bus and to walk where possible. Even if ten billion people in the world resolved to do the same, it wouldn’t reduce the percentage of global carbon emissions by more than several zeros after the decimal point.
There is, to my mind, another form of virtue signalling which has the potential to harm civilised life. But, as at the end of an episode of a web-series, I will use that allusion to these forms as what we in the screen-trades call a “cliff-hanger” and tell you what it is in a further column....