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Premier League clubs fear protests in American sport may inspire players to boycott top-flight games

Premier League clubs are anxious about the potential for players to be inspired into more militant forms of direct action by the anti-racism protests rocking American sport amid fears of boycotts spreading to this country. 

In dramatic developments in the United States, matches were postponed in basketball, baseball, Major League Soccer and tennis on Wednesday as sport stars joined nationwide protests following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin on Sunday.

Premier League players are understood to be monitoring events in America with interest and considering their next move after being inspired to endorse the Black Lives Matter movement by taking a knee before every match following the resumption of the league in June.

That initiative, which has been taken up by most other sports including cricket and rugby this summer, sprang out of a meeting of the Premier League captain’s group, who will hold further informal talks about how to register their support for racial equality next season.

The Premier League and the clubs welcomed the players’ decision to make that symbolic gesture, and would have no problem with it continuing next season, but they are nervous about the possibility of more militant action. 

Any decision to boycott matches even taken by individual players could have a significant impact on the integrity of the league and its commercial value.

The Premier League plan to talk to players about ways of showing their support before the start of the season, while the Football Association yesterday confirmed that Liverpool and Arsenal will take the knee before tomorrow’s Community Shield, providing a strong indication that the protest will continue next season.

The NBA postponed play-off games after Milwaukee Bucks, whose home state is Wisconsin, refused to take the court against Orlando Magic.

In baseball, three MLB games were called off after teams decided not to play and five MLS matches were postponed.

In tennis, 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka refused to play her semi-final in the Western and Southern Open in New York and issued a powerful statement.

‘As a black woman I feel as though there are much more important matters at hand that need immediate attention, rather than watching me play tennis,’ she said.

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