Premiership: How will Black Lives Matter movement be marked when season resumes?

Ugo Monye
Ugo Monye was a Premiership winner with Harlequins in 2011-12

When Premiership matches resume on Friday, rugby union will be presented with its first opportunity to acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement.

Many competitors from other sports have shown their support by taking a knee before games since elite sport returned in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Former Harlequins, England and British & Irish Lions winger Ugo Monye has been involved in a players' working group, containing a representative from each of the 12 Premiership clubs.

Monye spoke at length about the subject during the latest Rugby Union Weekly podcast with BBC rugby union correspondent Chris Jones and former Harlequins team-mate Danny Care.

He has admitted that there could be a somewhat divided response across the competition, but respect and fairness towards players should remain paramount, irrespective of their decision to take part in any action or not.

The conversation began with Care confirming he and his Harlequins team-mates will be taking a knee before they get the season back under way against Sale.

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Danny Care: "Aaron Morris, our full-back, has been doing some great work, chatting to a lot of other guys across the league about what rugby can do, some of those talks which Ugo has also been involved with.

"At Quins, we want to show some solidarity with it. You're going to see all Harlequins players take the knee before kick-off on Friday as a gesture.

"We're going to really try to educate ourselves as a club, for people to come in and help the likes of me - a 33-year-old white guy who has lived a fairly privileged life - see things I probably haven't really thought about before."

Premier League players take a knee
Players regularly took a knee before Premier League football matches after the season resumed in June

Ugo Monye: "Together we felt it was really important for us to acknowledge the genesis of this movement and this cause to talk about anti-racism or racial inequality and what that might look like.

"For me, the genesis of it has been Black Lives Matter.

"But, I'm also not ignorant to remove myself and not be aware of the fact those three words, as a statement, have been politicised to a large degree and hijacked.

"Anyone that knows me knows I don't stand for the same things that that organisation does.

"When you distil it, boil it down and look at it in its rawest form, 'Black Lives Matter' as three words means a lot to a lot of people in this country and within our league.

"But I'm also totally aware that there's freedom of speech and a liberty in how people may feel that they want to mark that moment, if at all."

'Everyone has a different personal relationship with racism'

Monye: "In terms of the optics of what it might look like through the weekend, it could be divided.

"I don't think we're going to get it to look like the Premier League.

"It might look a little bit more like Formula 1 (some drivers have chosen not to take a knee, but have taken part in pre-race demonstrations and worn anti-racism shirts), but I don't want people to jump to conclusions and assumptions that by people not taking the knee, that means they're racist.

"What I've also tried to understand after speaking to a lot of people is that, within the Premiership, there's a lot of different communities, cultures and different countries represented within the 12 teams.

"Everyone has a different personal relationship with racism. So what it might mean for me might be slightly different to another person, and the way they may want to mark it might look slightly different from me."

Formula 1 anti-racism protests
Formula 1 drivers have staged anti-racism demonstrations before all races this season, although not all have taken a knee

'Taking the knee is a peaceful protest'

Monye: "Taking the knee in my opinion is a peaceful protest. It's very quiet, very peaceful but it's also very symbolic.

"With lots of people it got raised and bled into their awareness from the NFL player Colin Kaepernick, but the gesture goes way before that.

"It goes back to 1965 with Martin Luther King in amongst the civil rights movement in America.

"For me, Martin Luther King's an absolute champion and guys like him paved the way and empowered us to be able to talk about this and tackle it."

'All I've tried to do is give clarity over the messaging'

Monye: "I've had a lot of conversations with players from up and down the country, not in a way to lobby, but just to give clarity on my beliefs and the reasons as to why I see things the way I see them.

"My relationship with racism is an unwanted one, but a very personal one.

"It's something I'm obviously very passionate about and let's be clear, we're talking about it and there's a lot more that rugby can be doing, but it's still a great game.

"For people who are having these conversations and raising awareness, we're not dismissing or trying to diminish our game, we're just trying to talk about how things can be made better.

Ugo Monye
As well as being a regular presenter of the BBC's Rugby Union Weekly podcast, Ugo Monye works as a television pundit

"But once again, where you come from and your religious beliefs has played a huge part in some of the conversations.

"If we had American guys in our league at the weekend and their families have been affected adversely with regards to the movement, would they want to acknowledge it in a certain way?

"There was a brilliant programme on Monday on the BBC called 'The Australian Dream' about the relationship Australians have with Indigenous people and that's another complex one.

"South Africans, who we have a lot of in our league, they have a slightly different relationship with racism and that's why as much as in my mind, I'd like it to look a certain way, it's not for me to pass judgement.

"All I've tried to do is give clarity over the messaging; get people to understand what we're standing for and what we're not standing for.

"Nobody that I've spoken to wants to associate themselves with the political organisation, however, there is an intrinsic association because we're using the same three words.

"However, our cause is very different.

"It's been exhausting, because for something which I have in my mind, is very clear and very simple, is actually mightily complex."

Quins 'very behind the movement'

Care: "I can't speak for everyone, but when Aaron Morris presented to us all about what he would like us to do and what the club would like to do, he was very open to say that if there were any issues about why people might not want to do it, then please come and talk to me.

"I'm not sure anyone has, but as a club, we're very behind the movement."

Monye: "The scrutiny surrounding it is totally unprecedented.

"I've got a rough idea as to what it might look like at the weekend, and all I'd just say is people need to be fair, supportive and respectful.

"There will be people that take the knee that will get scrutinised and will have negativity whether it's print media, broadcast media or on social media.

"There will be people that don't take the knee that will have the same levelled at them and that's just not fair.

Ugo Monye
Ugo Monye appeared for the British & Irish Lions on their tour of South Africa in 2009

"At the heart of all of it, there has to be a level of respect.

"We've got to support people that do take the knee in the same way we have to support people that don't take the knee.

"It's not for me to pass judgement on it but many will unfortunately because that's the society and age we live in. It's a shame.

"For example, Rainbow Laces weekend where we're talking about sexual equality, there isn't scrutiny over which player wears those rainbow laces or not. You don't have anyone reporting or counting it saying 'well this player didn't wear them, he must be homophobic'.

"That's one of my fears for this weekend. I would love everyone across the league to take a knee and be proud to take a knee, but so long as you're satisfied and clear with the message in your head and you're doing something or not doing something, in terms of my role within this, there's nothing more that I can do."

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Former Bristol, Gloucester and England Sevens winger James Bailey has also been heavily involved on the working group alongside Monye.

A statement on behalf of the working group, endorsed by Premiership Rugby, is likely to be issued before the resumption of the season.

Premiership Rugby will also be recognising NHS staff and key workers, along with people who have lost their lives to Covid-19 with gestures at all of this weekend's fixtures.