Matt Maher: Les Ferdinand leading the way in trying to make progress beyond symbols

As statements go, the one issued by QPR defending their decision not to take the knee before last week’s Championship fixture against Coventry ranks among the most impressive and important in recent memory.

Les Ferdinand
Les Ferdinand

The R’s had faced something of a media backlash for their decision, something which seemed particularly strange considering they rank among the most progressive clubs when it comes to the issue of diversity and have, in Les Ferdinand, the only black director of football in the senior game.

In the statement, Ferdinand quite fairly suggested media organisations might look to look ‘a little more inwardly’ at some of the inequalities within their own industry, while explaining the reasoning behind the club’s decision.

“The taking of the knee has reached a point of ‘good PR’ but little more than that,” he said. “The message has been lost. It is now not dissimilar to a fancy hashtag or a nice pin badge.

“What are our plans with this? Will people be happy for players to take the knee for the next 10 years but see no actual progress made? Taking the knee will not bring about change in the game – actions will.”

There are many who will have read Ferdinand’s words while nodding their head.

When Villa and Sheffield United were the first teams to take the knee back in June, the images went around the world.

But just in the same way a minute’s silence or applause prior to kick-off has become more common in recent years, when something happens more frequently there is always a risk its impact will be lessened and the reason behind it lost.

That is not to suggest teams should stop taking the knee. The decision over whether to protest should always be taken by the individual. If players believe taking the knee is still important, they should continue to do so.

Yet Ferdinand was right to point out the debate it has sparked in recent months needs to lead to tangible change.

Too many times in the past, racist incidents have created days of discussion but no real progress. To paraphrase Ferdinand, the conversation has for too long been going round in circles. He is not the only one who feels that way.

“I know that (QPR chief executive) Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand are deeply committed to equality,” said Sanjay Bhandari, chairman of Kick it Out.

“I agree with them that we need to focus on action which creates real change. We should be talking about solutions, not symbols.”

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