Soccer-Most European fans back players kneeling against racism

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FILE PHOTO: Premier League - West Bromwich Albion v Wolverhampton Wanderers

(Reuters) - A majority of football supporters around nine European nations support professional players taking a knee ahead of matches as an anti-racism gesture, according to a new survey.

The gesture began at games from the middle of last year in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, drawing widespread public support although a minority of fans say it has lost its relevance and sport should not be politicised.

The YouGov survey of 4,500 fans in nine countries showed support strongest in Portugal, where 79% backed the gesture, followed by Italy (73%), Spain (71%) and Germany (60%).

In England, where a small section of fans booed players taking the knee at two recent international friendlies, support was at 54%, followed by Wales (53%), France (52%), Scotland (49%). The Netherlands saw the lowest support at 44%.

In Britain, 78% of ethnically diverse fans were happy with players making the gesture, according to the survey which was carried out between Feb. 23 and March 31.

England have vowed to continue taking the knee into the European Championship, due to start on Friday.

By contrast, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose nation is one of the Euro 2020 hosts, said kneeling was a custom related to slavery and alien to Hungary, with pressure on athletes to follow suit a "provocation."

The YouGov survey found fewer fans were confident about the importance of taking the knee in actually tackling racism.

Portuguese fans were the most optimistic at 76%, while spectators from Wales (41%), England (37%) and Scotland (36%) came bottom of that list.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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