Pep Guardiola accuses Premier League of double standards over yellow ribbon ban as BLM division grows

Ben Rumsby
Pep Guardiola - OLI SCARFF/AFP/Getty Images

Pep Guardiola has waded into the growing row over football’s support of Black Lives Matter by implying the authorities were guilty of double-standards by banning his yellow ribbon for being too political.

Guardiola spoke out over the Football Association fining him for showing support for Catalan political prisoners after the Premier League confirmed players would continue to wear Black Lives Matter badges despite mounting concern over the movement’s “far left ideology”.

Sky Sports and BT Sport said their presenters and pundits would be invited to follow suit after Jamie Redknapp and Kelly Cates joined Patrice Evra in refusing to don similar badges and Gary Neville also appeared on screen without one during coverage of Manchester United’s win at Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday night.

Sports organisations and their broadcast partners have been scrambling to distance themselves from the Black Lives Matter movement since its UK arm this week began criticising Israel, as well as promoting a wider policy of defunding the police and dismantling capitalism.

But the same organisations are refusing to ditch badges bearing its name, which they have insisted were never designed to promote a political agenda but to show solidarity with the black community following the alleged murder in the United States of George Floyd.

Guardiola was fined by the FA two years ago for wearing a yellow ribbon, despite Uefa allowing him to don it during Manchester City’s European matches.

Asked if the game’s support for Black Lives Matter had left him confused about what constituted a banned political symbol, he said: “It is a question for the Premier League and for the people who ban me. I think all the humanitarian causes must be defended and my yellow ribbon was for this, for the political prisoners who are still in jail – being judged 12, 13 years – for asking people to vote.

AFC Bournemouth home shirt bearing messages in support of the NHS and Black Lives Matter in home dressing room at Vitality Stadium on June 19, 2020 - Robin Jones - AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images

“So I am not allowed to wear the yellow ribbon but, all the time, I bring and use the yellow ribbon, to use.”

Tottenham Hotspur became the first club to condemn #BlackLivesMatterUK’s public statements in response to a letter written by a Twitter user to their chairman, Daniel Levy, who is Jewish.

“It is unacceptable that a value-based action is being hijacked by those with their own political agenda,” wrote the club’s executive director, Donna-Marie Cullen.

Simon Johnson, a former FA executive and chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, accused #BlackLivesMatterUK of having an “unnatural fixation with problems in the world caused by the Jewish state”.

And Sanjay Bhandari, the chairman of Kick It Out, also said that the Premier League’s association with Black Lives Matter may have “served its purpose” and it was time to focus on “sustained action”.

Sky confirmed pundits Evra and Redknapp and presenter Cates had refused to wear a Black Lives Matter badge, despite the latter two having done so previously.

Sky initially suggested Neville – who had also previously donned the badge – had refused to wear it while at the Amex before blaming a mix-up and saying he would don one while co-commentating on Wednesday night’s game between Chelsea and West Ham United.

Fellow Sky pundit Matt Le Tissier this week announced he was considering refusing to wear the badge when challenged over Black Lives Matter’s “far-left ideology” – although he later said he would don it.

Le Tissier’s unease about the movement’s aims were shared by former Wolverhampton Wanderers captain Karl Henry, who said the British people had “had enough” of the “divisive” organisation.

That was after #BlackLivesMatterUK issued a barrage of tweets over Israel’s proposed annexation of the West Bank and claimed that “mainstream British politics is gagged of the right to critique Zionism”.

The following day, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has taken the knee alongside parliamentary colleagues, branded calls to defund the police “nonsense”.

#BlackLivesMatterUK responded by calling the country’s former Director of Public Prosecutions “a cop in an expensive suit”.

All this has failed to change the Premier League’s minds about players wearing Black Lives Matter badges for the remainder of the season or taking the knee before matches, with a spokesman confirming both would continue.

That was after it took the usual step 24 hours earlier of issuing a statement after its chief executive stressed its endorsement of the Black Lives Matter movement was on “moral” and not political grounds.

It said: “We are aware of the risk posed by groups that seek to hijack popular causes and campaigns to promote their own political views. These actions are entirely unwelcome and are rejected by the Premier League and all other professional football bodies, and they underline the importance of our sport coming together to declare a very clear position against prejudice.

“We want our message to be a positive one that recognises football has the power to bring people together.”

Richard Masters also insisted that the support did not “set any particular precedent” and warned players and managers would still face punishment for making unapproved political statements.

Speaking to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee of MPs, Masters denied opening the door for other forms of political activism, saying there was “a clear distinction between a moral cause and a political movement or agenda”.

Sky and BT are understood to share the Premier League’s interpretation of its support for Black Lives Matter and the wearing of badges bearing the movement’s name.

Sky Sports News presenter Mike Wedderburn – who last week delivered a powerful speech after a ‘White Lives Matter Burnley’ banner was flown over a match – appeared on air with one on Wednesday, while the network continued to carry the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter before advert breaks.

The BBC said its football presenters and pundits had not worn the badges due to its rules on political impartiality.