Chelsea plays Swansea City this Sunday at Stamford Bridge in the English Premier League. The match is a rematch of the 2017 final, which the reigning champions won on penalties in controversial fashion.
A dozen Chelsea players knelt during the national anthem in protest during the game against Manchester United on Sunday. It was the first time the team had taken such a stand, though the majority of the club had previously protested. Eight of them also knelt when they faced Arsenal the previous weekend. It was not easy, since the club issued a statement in the days before the kick-off acknowledging that it had been difficult for a number of players to take part in the move, but that they would not stand for anything that “would divide the club.”
Magdalena Eriksson, a midfielder for the Swedish national team, tweeted support for the players after the match:
As a player I felt fine to protest. But I didn’t feel good to see fans with banners and shouts such as you saw on Sunday on the terraces. On free-kicks and corners, clubs would invite us to stay at their ends and applaud our performances. I think the players spoke about the decision, but I do not know about the reaction from the fans. I hope everyone respects the choices made by the players and avoids being on the wrong side of history.
Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou also came out in support of the protests after the game, though he did not take part in the action:
Also affected by the protest were two players from London rivals Arsenal, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who knelt during the anthem before a match against West Ham on Saturday. The team released a statement after the incident:
We share the views and concerns expressed by our players regarding recent political and social issues including the abuse of people based on their race, colour and religion and will continue to have an open and constructive dialogue with them and all our supporters.
As some Chelsea players said after the game, the protest was about protest, and that anyone who misunderstood the message of the players’ actions was buying into a narrative that they were afraid of going too far.