European football players should copy American footballers by “taking a knee” during national anthems to protest against racism, former World Cup winner Lilian Thuram said on Friday.
In a gesture initiated last season by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, several NFL players have routinely knelt on one knee during the playing of the American anthem.
It is intended to call attention to what the protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.
“I would love it if soccer players did it (took a knee),” Thuram told Reuters.
”I think it would be fascinating to see that, and not just black players either…
“I hope that this resistance movement will spread itself outside the USA and that more people, regardless of skin color, follow in their footsteps to create a better society,” the 45-year-old Frenchman added.
The issue of taking a knee was magnified earlier this month when U.S. President Donald Trump said any NFL player who protested during the anthem was a “son of a bitch” who should be fired.
Unlike in the NFL, national anthems are not routinely played before football matches in Europe’s major leagues and are usually only heard at international fixtures.
Thuram, a former Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona defender who won the World Cup with France in 1998 and the European Championship two years later, was speaking in the multicultural Stockholm suburb of Tensta, where he spent several hours discussing race and society with local journalism students.
Beyond his football career, Thuram has always shown political engagement, and has frequently spoken out against racism.
“We are in Sweden, and you are asking me about the situation in the USA — that means that it has become a question in Sweden. That’s why it is so important that there are people who take up injustices and make them visible,” he said.
“If you make injustice visible, it comes into the spotlight, and if it is in focus then one must start to question what is happening. To solve a problem, you have to bring it into the open.”
Thuram said he would like to see more white NFL players taking part in the protest.
“It’s sad not to do it. It would be much stronger (if everyone did it). There are many who think, ‘I don’t care about this’, that they are not affected by the issue,” he said.
Thuram hopes that the NFL protest will force a change in attitudes.
“That day when vast amounts of people take a knee, people will be forced to think about these issues,” he said.
In 2013, Thuram took part in a march through Paris by supporters of the Ayrault government’s plan to legalise same-sex marriage. He had previously explained that he supported same-sex marriage in the name of equal rights (comparing the denial of equality for homosexuals to the denial of equal rights for women and for African Americans in earlier periods of history), and in the name of France’s secular principles (laïcité), rejecting religious arguments against civil marriage. He also expressed support for the right of same-sex couples to adopt children.
He has also engaged in campaigns that favour the Catalan language and that favour the independence of Roussillon (Northern Catalonia) from France.