The Croatian Football Federation has said it will let its players decide whether to take the knee when the team face England at Wembley on Sunday.
The opening opponents for Gareth Southgate’s side said the gesture “does not hold any symbolic ties to the fight against racism” in Croatia and therefore will not be recommended. The CFF added that they ‘“strongly condemn” all forms of discrimination.
In a message to their supporters, the CFF said: “The Croatian Football Federation believes that the players have a right to their own opinion on these topics, and that they also have a right to choose whether they want to engage in any activity.
“The players of the Croatian national team jointly decided ahead of the friendly match against Belgium that they will not take the knee and they respectfully stood in silence during the kneeling of their Belgian colleagues.
“The Croatian Football Federation respects their stance on this and will not impose taking the knee as an obligation for Croatian players, as this gesture does not hold any symbolic ties to the fight against racism and discrimination in the context of Croatian culture and tradition.”
Despite the prime minister, Boris Johnson, refusing to condemn fans at the Riverside stadium who booed the gesture before last Sunday’s friendly with Romania, England have reaffirmed their commitment to the act and will continue to take the knee throughout Euro 2020.
The issue is also proving divisive in Europe. Though France and Belgium are committed to taking the knee, Germany and the Netherlands have opted against it, preferring to advertise a broader human rights message before matches, which has tied into protests over the use of migrant labour by next year’s World Cup host Qatar.
The head of the Polish football federation, the former international Zbigniew Boniek, said he was “absolutely against such actions” and argued that “footballers sometimes kneeland if you asked some of them why they were kneeling, they wouldn’t even know”.
On Thursday, England fans’ groups and Kick it Out called on supporters at Wembley to drown out any jeers with applause. “Gareth Southgate and his England players have repeatedly stated that taking the knee is a symbol of the continuing battle against racial inequality,” said Kick it Out, the Football Supporters’ Association and England fans’ group Block 109 in a statement. “Jeering the players is also jeering what the gesture stands for.
“Once players are in position to take the knee, Kick It Out and the FSA are asking fans to start their applause as early as possible, to show the players and the team we are all behind them.”