Anthony Watson believes it is crucial for sportsmen and women to continue using their platform to take the knee in protest against racial injustice.
Watson was among the England players to perform the symbolic gesture before matches during last year’s autumn campaign and the recent Six Nations, with individuals given the choice of whether or not to act.
And the Bath wing will be involved when the British and Irish Lions squad begin discussions over what approach should be adopted in South Africa when a pre-tour training camp begins in Jersey next week.
England’s football team were booed by some fans for taking a knee before their Euro 2020 warm-up games against Australia and Romania – a response Watson finds frustratingly predictable.
Four months ago the 27-year-old called out critics on social media who objected to Eddie Jones’ team showing their support in the fight against racism.
“Am I disappointed by the reaction? I don’t know. I expected it a little bit if I’m honest,” Watson, speaking on behalf of Land Rover, an official sponsor of the Lions Tour to South Africa, told the PA news agency
“You see so many people on social media platforms who have got so much to say with so little real substance behind their reasoning. Only six months ago I said I knew this would continue to happen.
“I don’t think anybody should be forced do anything. People should do what they feel is right. If I’m asked when I’m with the Lions and if it’s universally discussed, then I’ll throw my opinion into the hat in terms of what I would do.
“I want to continue to raise awareness around some of the racial inequalities that I believe are still prevalent in this country and worldwide.
“The racial abuse that footballers and sports people get is unacceptable, whether it’s online or wherever.
“While that continues to happen, especially at the frequency and magnitude at which it’s happening, it’s important to continue to raise awareness.
“I do think it’s an important message, the footballers are doing a great job and I’m glad that conversations are still being had as a result of people taking the knee because that’s very important.
“I’m starting to see more and more people discuss it in the right kind of context and understand more why athletes are taking a knee.”
Watson, whose mother Vivian is Nigerian, disagrees that sport should be separated from causes such as anti-racism and also rejects the link made between taking the knee and Black Lives Matter as a political movement.
“Whether a sportsman should concentrate on their sport….that’s a double-edged sword,” said Watson as he prepares to embark on his second Lions tour after making three Test starts against New Zealand four years ago.
“In one way I agree in that your primary focus should be doing your job to the best of your ability, but I’d also say that by performing to the best of your ability you have so much influence on so many people and kids worldwide, to not do good with that would be such a waste of that platform.
“Kneeling has been around well before this politicised agenda that people have thrown around and in my opinion they use this as an excuse to mask some of their own issues.
“If you do any research – and anyone who is booing the kneeling should do their own research before they boo something – it shows that kneeling has been around since…..the first example I can think of is Martin Luther King in 1965.
“But it goes back even before that to the slave trade. To draw that link between kneeling and a political organisation is absurd and in my opinion that’s an excuse to suit their fit their agenda.”
*Anthony Watson is a Land Rover ambassador. Keep up to date with Land Rover’s Lions Adventure @LandRoverRugby #LionsAdventure