Wilfried Zaha has called for greater efforts towards education on racial inequality and says social media companies should start taking “strong action” over abuse after he opted against taking a knee before kick-off of Crystal Palace’s match against West Brom.
Since Project Restart last summer, players, officials and staff prior to kick-off at Premier League and EFL matches have performed the gesture in protest against racial discrimination.
The Black Lives Matter slogan was present on Premier League players’ shirts during the restarted 2019-20 season and was changed to a patch with the words No Room For Racism in reference to the league’s own anti-racism initiative.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters told reporters that players will continue to take a knee until the end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Zaha, who is the first Premier League player to choose not to kneel before games, has been subject to online abuse on multiple occasions.
A 12-year-old boy was arrested last summer for racially offensive messages which were sent to the forward on Instagram and he was given education lessons following the incident.
Speaking at the Financial Times Business Summit last month, Zaha confirmed that he would stop kneeling because the gesture was “degrading” and encouraged players to “stand tall” in defiance of racism.
In a statement, the midfielder said: “My decision to stand at kick-off has been public knowledge for a couple of weeks now.
“There is no right or wrong decision, but for me personally I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse.
“I know there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes at the Premier League and other authorities to make change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved.
“I also fully respect my teammates and players at other clubs who continue to take the knee.
“As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools, and social media companies should be taking strong action against people who abuse others online – not just footballers.
“I now just want to focus on football and enjoy being back playing on the pitch. I will continue to stand tall.”
A number of professional footballers have been targeted with online abuse this season. In February, Arsenal striker Eddie Nketiah, Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger and Reece James, Manchester United Women’s Lauren James and Manchester United’s Axel Tuanzebe were among those abused on social media platforms.
Zaha’s team-mate Patrick van Aanholt was targeted after Crystal Palace’s goalless draw with Manchester United earlier in March, and Instagram removed the offending user from its platform.
Following a rise in the levels of abuse, Instagram has said it will take tougher measures to clamp down on discrimination on its platform, including through the removal of accounts to prevent abusive messages from being sent by users.
The Online Harms Bill, due to come before the government this year, will aim to hold technology companies to greater levels of accountability concerning online abuse and punish organisations if they breach online duty of care rules.
DCMS (Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) secretary Oliver Dowden has said the government will change the law to make these companies accountable for any malicious content.