A senior UK cabinet minister has said it is “perfectly legitimate” for England players to take the knee at the World Cup to protest against inequality, emphasising the apparent change in attitude towards the stance by some Conservative politicians.

England will take the knee before their match against Iran on Monday, although Harry Kane will not wear the “OneLove” rainbow captain’s armband in support of LGBTQ+ rights, over concerns this could bring an instant yellow card.

Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister, said he had no issue with England players taking the knee, a protest that emerged from the Black Lives Matter movement but which is used by footballers as a more general condemnation of prejudice.

“I’m fine with that,” he told Sky News. “I think that’s a choice for Harry Kane and the team, and indeed for Wales as well. These are their choices, it’s not for the government to tell them what to do.

“And I think when you’re playing in a country like Qatar, which does have different standards in the way it treats, for example, the LGBTQ community, it’s perfectly legitimate for the England or the Welsh team to make that stand.”

During the Euro 2020 football competition, which took place last year, Boris Johnson, the then prime minister, refused to condemn fans who booed England players for taking the knee.

Priti Patel, Johnson’s home secretary at the time, said England fans had the right to boo players for what she called “gesture politics”, while Lee Anderson, the Tory MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire, said he would not watch any England games while the team was supporting a “political movement” and risked alienating “traditional supporters”.

Discussions over equality at the World Cup are all the more pointed given laws in Qatar that discriminate against LGBT people.

Fifa, football’s world governing body, has requested that team captains wear armbands with messages such as “Football unites the world”, “Share the meal” and “Bring the moves”.

England and Wales, and some other teams, had planned to defy Fifa and send out their captains wearing the rainbow armband. However, England and Wales and some other World Cup nations have said they now will not.

In a joint statement with Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland, the English and Welsh football associations said that while they would be prepared to pay fines, they could not risk “sporting sanctions” for players.

The statement said: “We are very frustrated by the Fifa decision which we believe is unprecedented” and that players and coaches were “disappointed”.



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