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‘White Lives Matter’ banner was to ‘incite racial hatred,’ says Burnley CEO Neil Hart

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English football seemed to be united. When the Premier League restarted earlier this month, all the players from 20 clubs took a knee and some raised their fists, paying homage to a symbol of the Black power movement. For the first 12 games players also wore shirts with the message “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their jerseys instead of their names.

Then on Monday a more discordant note was struck — a plane flew over the Etihad Stadium during Manchester City’s game against Burnley trailing a banner displaying the message: “White Lives Matter Burnley.”

Burnley condemned the banner, issuing a statement during the match to offer its unreserved apology. After the game, Burnley captain Ben Mee said he was “ashamed and embarrassed.”

According to the the Mayor of Burnley, Wajid Khan, the people responsible for organizing the “White Lives Matter” banner are “missing the point” of the Black Lives Matter movement.

He makes the point that although Burnley “has come so far” after the race riots in 2001, a small minority do not realize that the Black Live Matter movement is “not about a phrase.”

“It’s a movement, an understanding, a realization that over the history that Black people have faced and still continue to face challenges of racism, as we saw through the tragic death of George Floyd,” Khan, who admitted he was “very disappointed and embarrassed” when he was told of the banner, told CNN’s Phil Black.

But not everyone is feeling embarrassment. When CNN traveled to Burnley on Tuesday, one woman interviewed by CNN outside the club’s Turf Moor Stadium was trying to stick sheets of paper with the message “White Lives Matter Too” to the outside of the ground. The club’s social media pages have also been flooded with criticism to the club’s response.

“This is a moment to seize the opportunity to look at and reflect on all the institutions across the globe,” noted Khan, who added that too many are seeing Black Lives Matter as just a phrase.

“And that is their ignorance,” he said. “And I think they are missing the point. And it’s about time they need to be educated. Just like we’ve been educating people around homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. We’ve got to look at all the injustices of society and stand up to them and deal with them.”

Following a police investigation, Chief Superintendent Russ Procter said that “there are no criminal offenses that have been disclosed at this time.”

READ: As Burnley condemns ‘White Lives Matter’ banner, social media comments suggest some fans still miss the point


In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Burnley CEO Neil Hart said that the motivation behind the banner was to “incite racial hatred.”

“Clearly all lives matter: White, Black, wherever you’re from. What we are saying, through the campaign, are Black and ethnic minority groups have faced persecution and injustice and inequality for hundreds of years and are still facing that today and that is the reason behind this campaign,” said Hart. “We are not saying White lives don’t matter.

“We are standing very firm against any kind of discriminatory behavior. And that’s what last night was about. Last night was driven by a group of individuals who are linked to a far-right group and last night’s motivation was to incite racial hatred, full stop. And that is unacceptable.”

Burnley has had a close relationship with far-right politics. In 2009, the British National Party won its first seat on an English county council with a victory in Lancashire in the Padiham and Burnley West ward. Khan has fought both British far-right campaigner Tommy Robinson when he “[stood in] the north west of England” and former BNP leader Nicholas Griffin.

Khan, who was “born and bred” in Burnley, says that he got into politics to fight against the far right in elections in the town and “expose the ignorance and the politics of hatred and division.”

“[Racism in Burnley] is not different than anywhere else in any part of the country or the world,” the 40-year-old Khan said. “The people that did the banner, they had their way of thinking.

“But that way of thinking has been defeated consistently and persistently through people out there making a positive contribution. And I think the negative politics of division and hatred can only be defeated where enough good men and women come out and show the very best in what’s great in the areas.

“And I think the way we’ve got to tackle this is by being more inclusive, by supporting movements that tackle discrimination and inequality, like the Premier League, the Black Lives Matter movement.”

READ: Raheem Sterling welcomes ‘massive step’ after players take a knee before Premier League restart

Staying on track

Before the Whites Live Matter banner was flown over the Etihad Stadium, a lot of positive momentum appeared to have been garnered through the Premier League’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

And former Liverpool and England striker Emile Heskey believes the banner was an attempt by “one silly person” who wanted to “make it about themselves.”

“You’re always going to get one person who spoils what’s going on and this is a positive movement,” Heskey told CNN Sport’s Amanda Davies in an Instagram Live chat on Tuesday.

“It’s a positive thing that people are sitting down and we’re having discussions and we’re openly discussing and acknowledging that, yes, we possibly do need changes. That, yes, we probably just skirted over a few things. Yes, let’s see where we can actually help and make change.

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“We’re talking about a matter that, yes, people are acknowledging we need to do better and then you get one silly person making it about himself that he must fly a plane over a game. Why would you do such a thing?”

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