Soon after Manchester City and Burnley players kneeled in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement prior to Monday's match, a plane pulling a racist banner flew over the Etihad Stadium in Manchester.
The banner read "White Lives Matter Burnley" and appeared in the sky above the stadium within the first few minutes of the match, and Twitter users photographed the plane flying over Manchester and other nearby cities.
Plane + banner over Manchester City v Burnley. The grim state of it pic.twitter.com/bl9sk0oZik— James Dart (@James_Dart) June 22, 2020
Plane has just flew over the Etihad, “White Lives Matter Burnley” wtf pic.twitter.com/BXzOxEbyCM— Emmett (@TheEmmett_) June 22, 2020
Just seen this fly over Chorley saying White Lives Matter Burnley 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/REVYdV74uE— Andy Whittle (@andymwhittle) June 22, 2020
The Premier League told NBC Sports' Rebecca Lowe that police are investigating the banner. In a statement published on the club website, Burnley "strongly" condemned "the actions of those responsible for the aircraft and offensive banner." The club said those responsible are not welcome at Turf Moor, Burnley's home stadium.
"This, in no way, represents what Burnley Football Club stands for and we will work fully with the authorities to identify those responsible and issue lifetime bans," the statement read. " ... We are fully behind the Premier League’s Black Lives Matter initiative and, in line with all other Premier League games undertaken since Project Restart, our players and football staff willingly took the knee at kick-off at Manchester City. We [apologize] unreservedly to the Premier League, to Manchester City and to all those helping to promote Black Lives Matter."
Players on all 20 clubs wore "Black Lives Matter" on the back of their shirts in the first 12 fixtures of the restarted Premier League season, with players, staff and officials kneeling in solidarity with the movement before matches. The #PlayersTogether group, led by all 20 club captains, reportedly called on the Premier League to offer support of the Black Lives Matter movement following George Floyd's death in Minneapolis police custody last month and the ensuing global protests of institutional racism and police brutality.
"White Lives Matter" is a racist refrain to the Black Lives Matter movement that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, has been used by white supremacist groups in the United States. It also is the name of a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group founded in 2015 in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement. A statue of Black tennis legend Arthur Ashe in Richmond, Va. was vandalized with the expression last week.
BBC journalist Alistair Magowan reported that the company who flew the banner said police were aware the banner would fly overhead, and the company said they "don't take sides" over advertisements they fly as long as it's "legal and no coarse language is used." The company said they've flown banners emblazoned with "Black Lives Matters" before.
Spoke to company which flew ‘White Lives Matter’ banner over Etihad. “If an ad is legal and no course language is used then we don’t take sides.” Also claimed police knew about it and had no issue, and has flown a black lives matter banner. This was first WLM one they’ve flown— alistair magowan (@alistairmagowan) June 22, 2020
Burnley captain Ben Mee told Sky Sports after the Clarets' 5-0 loss to the reigning Premier League champions that he heard "some whispers" the plane would fly overhead and that he was "ashamed" and "embarrassed" to see the banner.
"It's not what we're about at all," Mee said. "Missed the whole point of what we're trying to achieve, trying to do. I think these people need to come into the 21st century, and educate themselves as a lot of us do. Like I said, (the banner) completely missed the point of what we're trying to achieve. It doesn't represent what we're about, what the club's about, what the players are about and what the majority of the fans are about for sure."
🗣" We can talk about football but there's something I want to talk about first, I'm ashamed, I'm embarrassed that a small group of our fans have put that around the stadium."— Football Daily (@footballdaily) June 22, 2020
Ben Mee on the 'White Lives Matter' banner that flew over the Etihad tonight pic.twitter.com/x6RyjGUZZX
The banner flying above Monday's match is yet another high-profile racist incident during a Premier League match this season.
A 41-year-old Manchester City supporter, who is white, was charged with a racially aggravated public offense after directing monkey chants towards two Manchester United players who are Black during December's Manchester Derby. Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger alleged Tottenham Hotspur supporters directed racist abuse towards him that month, and he was jeered by Spurs supporters in the return fixture in February after a London Metropolitan Police investigation found no evidence of racist abuse. Spurs said in a statement they "fully" supported Rudiger "and the action he took," and Chelsea said their rivals made clear that "a lack of evidence does not mean an incident did not take place."
Before the season restarted, NBC sports soccer analyst Robbie Earle said the Premier League's fight against racism must continue beyond match-day tributes to the Black Lives Matter movement. The racist banner that flew over Monday's match is another reminder why.
"There seems to be a will for people to sit around and discuss things, but then we have to see actions," Earle, who is Black, said on June 11. "We have to see actions that are accountable, that can be checked, that can be ‑‑ you can look back and find out if things are working and adapt them if they are not."