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'I'd encourage players to take a knee at Crucible' – Alfie Burden on snooker's fight against racism

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Alfie Burden is keen to see professional sport continue its campaign against racism.

Image credit: Eurosport

ByDesmond Kane
03/07/2020 at 15:31 | Updated 03/07/2020 at 17:26

Alfie Burden explains why snooker should join football in using its global audience at the World Championship to campaign against "vile" racism after being the first professional cueist to take a knee before a match.

Taking a knee and taking a stance, doing your bit in the fight against the rancid spectre of racism is certainly a burden worth bearing.

Alfie Burden – a former Arsenal FC youth prodigy prior to serious injury – admits he's "not had the career that I would have liked" since pursuing a pilgrimage as a snooker professional in 1994, but is also aware that participating in potting is not only about himself. It is about being part of a bigger force for good.

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In such a respect, Burden was involved in one of those moments that tend to transcend the sport he plays after the horrific murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police in May.

Responding to what he describes as "vile" racism, Burden dropped to one knee for a few seconds before a Championship League contest with Ryan Day on 3 June at the Marshall Arena in Milton Keynes.

He paused before raising his arms upwards to the sky. It was a poignant moment made even more dramatic by the absence of any crowd due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The silence enveloping Burden was more at one with the moment than actually playing the match. It was amplified by social media as Burden's stance was suddenly discussed more than the balls he was potting.

"I don't always get it right, but to me it was important to show how I felt," explained Burden.

"We're no different to any sport with footballers showing what they think. Racism has no place in society, no place in sport and no place in the world.

"It is me showing my support to say racism has no place in society and I'm always one that will speak my mind – I'd do it again."

In the moral morass of social media, not all of the publicity has been positive, but Burden is unrepentant in his support of Black Lives Matter – and the campaign to eradicate institutional and societal racism wherever it lurks. Burden feels it is a disease more than a problem.

With the delayed World Championship beginning at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on 31 July and running for 17 days until 16 August, snooker has the perfect platform to espouse similar goals as Premier League football.

He would endorse and support any of his fellow professionals who feel they want to show "solidarity" on the sport's biggest stage before an estimated worldwide TV audience of 500 million.

"I encourage all players to speak their mind and express what they feel whether they think it is right or wrong. Everyone has got their own opinion," commented Burden.

"You shouldn't just follow the sheep. Have your own mind and express yourself. Snooker is no different. We're a sport and shouldn't be afraid to air our opinions. The football community have.

Alfie Burden takes a knee.

Image credit: Eurosport

"I'm likely to take the knee again because the fight is ongoing and racism has got no part in society.

"People need to show solidarity. I'm happy to speak my mind and I wouldn't encourage players to do what they don't want to do because everybody is their own person.

"But absolutely, if a player wanted to show their support and show it in that way in the fight against racism then absolutely I'd encourage them to take a knee.

"Why not? Why not? What happened to George Floyd was just vile," said Burden.

"The police are there to protect people, and the people have murdered the man on a pavement.. it was just vile and shocking. It has brought things to the forefront and I hope people will back this campaign to keep racism out of our world.

"I got a bit of abuse on social media for doing it. People are all entitled to their opinions, but to me we should all stand together behind the fight against racism and I continue to back that fight."

Burden works as a coach at Hendon FC alongside his brother-in-law Lee Allinson, who manages the non-league side. He once had a promising career with the ball at his feet as a winger in his teenage years, but breaking his leg in four places during a spell at Swindon Town forced him to have a rethink.

The world number 77 – who has been as high as 38 in the rankings – intends to focus more on football when he pots his final snooker ball, but the battle to educate kids against racism remains a life-long project for the Paddington-born player.

"It exists in society. I can't say I've seen any instances of it since I've been involved with Hendon, but certainly I see instances of it on social media," said the Londoner.

"Someone vilely abused (former Arsenal striker) Ian Wright online. He made it quite public and then discovered the young kid responsible was only 16 or only 17. It's about educating the younger generation because why are the younger generation being brought up to have these views? It is just awful.

"It is about educating people. People must continue to campaign and it can't be just brushed under the carpet. Hopefully we can make the change in society and I'll happily take the knee in support.

"People might think it is controversial, but I like to back things I feel strongly about."

"Everybody knows me on the Tour," added the 43-year-old, winner of the IBSF World Championship in India in 2009. "I'm one of the long-standing players. I'm pretty vocal and I always have a strong opinion.

"I'm the type of person who will always say what I feel. People either love you or hate you for it, but I'll always speak my mind. You do see a lot of this disgusting racism at football grounds.

"A few of the players are doing good jobs in speaking out vocally in the fight against racism, but it gets brushed under the carpet and forgotten then a couple of months down the line you see more disgusting acts of racism. It is just vile to see."

The F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton has admitted the campaign for equality cannot be part of a fashion in sport commenting: “We have to stay on it. Black people don’t have the privilege of being able to take a moment out. It is something we have to stay on top of; the industry has to stay on top of."

Burden agrees and said: "I think it must continue to be kept in the public eye and I hope this sustained campaign goes a long way to eradicating it completely out of society and sport.

"I've always brought my kids to understand good people are good people and bad people are bad people. It doesn't matter about their skin colour or religion. People are either good or they are not," said Burden, whose son Lene is on the books at Arsenal.

Alfie Burden (right) studies the table with China's leading player Ding Junhui.

Image credit: Eurosport

"I'm not a religious person, but the way I see life is simple: it is about being a good person, making the right decisions and good things will happen for you. My kids have been brought up with no prejudice.

"My daughter can be with whoever she wants as long as they treat my daughter properly. Skin colour has no importance in my household and that is the way I've brought my children up. That's the way we are, and that is the way it should be."

Burden - who has made 118 century breaks in his career including a 147 at the English Open four years ago - hopes snooker will become a more diverse sport in the years ahead as the game presents more opportunities to earn a living.

"There shouldn't be any boundaries in any sport. Whatever sport you love, play and become good at it. Follow your heart," said Burden, who will bid to be among the 16 qualifiers at the Crucible later this month.

"Why aren't there more black snooker players? I have no idea really, but I'd encourage everybody to take the sport up.

"It is a great sport and (World Snooker Tour chairman) Barry Hearn has added a lot of opportunities for younger players to pursue their hopes and aspirations in snooker."

Desmond Kane

World Championship first round draw

  • Judd Trump Eng (1) v Qualifier
  • Yan Bingtao Chn (16) v Qualifier
  • Stephen Maguire Sco (9) v Qualifier
  • Kyren Wilson Eng (8) v Qualifier
  • John Higgins Sco (5) v Qualifier
  • David Gilbert Eng (12) v Qualifier
  • Jack Lisowski Eng (13) v Qualifier
  • Mark Allen NI (4) v Qualifier
  • ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
  • Mark Williams Wal (3) v Qualifier
  • Stuart Bingham Eng (14) v Qualifier
  • Ding Junhui Chn (11) v Qualifier
  • Ronnie O’Sullivan Eng (6) v Qualifier
  • Mark Selby Eng (7) v Qualifier
  • Shaun Murphy Eng (10) v Qualifier
  • Barry Hawkins Eng (15) v Qualifier
  • Neil Robertson Aus (2) v Qualifier
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