The A-League and Black Lives Matter: The knee 'advocates non-violence from police brutality'

As the A-League returns this weekend -- the competition racing to complete the 27 remaining matches of its 2019/20 season across 34 days -- a number of its players are set to join their compatriots around the world in displaying support for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Ruon Tongyik, a South Sudan-born Australia junior international, is one such individual who will be doing more than taking the field; the 23-year-old Central Coast Mariners defender set to mark the return to play by raising his voice, and taking a knee, to express solidarity.

"The BLM movement touches me deeply," Tongyik told ESPN.

"It symbolises solidarity.

"Not just towards Black or white, but all refugees from different parts of the world."

Tongyik said the players would join a much wider global movement -- a movement calling for racial equality, an end to discrimination, and the dismantling of systemic oppression faced by minority groups -- when the A-League becomes one of the last domestic competitions around the world to return to the field following its COVID-19-enforced suspension.

"I think the situation is no different to wanting racism out of the game," he said.

"If we can advertise it, then we can certainly make a stand for it.

"[The knee] advocates [for] non-violence from police brutality towards African Americans, but also Indigenous Australians. It shows that all races can come together as one and also understand what life is like from someone else's point of view.

"We are all we have throughout this tough time."

Football Federation Australia (FFA) told ESPN that it would support Tongyik and his fellow players, indicating they would be able to support BLM without concerns over possible penalties.

"Football is a diverse and fully inclusive sport that has its origins in multicultural and Indigenous Australia, and FFA fully celebrates this rich history and strongly condemns any form of discrimination," an FFA spokesperson told ESPN.

"As the governing body of football in Australia, we want to take a common-sense approach and create an environment where everyone is empowered to reach their full potential and express themselves respectfully without fear of sanction."

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But with the A-League, proportionally, fielding fewer people of colour and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander players than other leagues, both in Australia and around the world, Australian player's union Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) -- which supports Tongyik and his fellow players in their efforts, and which has in the past been at the forefront of a number of social justice endeavours -- acknowledged to ESPN that Australian football can do more to advance racial equality.

Though the chaos surrounding Australian football in the wake of COVID-19 has handbraked its ability to do so thus far, the union says the displays of solidarity from Tongyik and his peers will represent first steps in a renewed commitment to anti-discrimination and highlighting systemic inequalities within football and the broader Australian society.

"We applaud Ruon and other players who wish to show solidarity and support this movement," PFA co-chief executive Beau Busch told ESPN.

"It's vital their actions and voices are seen and heard. Their impact is not lost on us or our communities.

"This year has prompted significant reflection for many. What has been evident is a need to acknowledge there is a significant gap in our sport that requires much more work and substantive commitment. We need to better educate everyone in our game, including our players, so they feel empowered to better contribute in this space.

"Our work previously has been about general support and fundraising; we realise our responsibility reaches far beyond that and needs to directly involve education and concrete commitments.

"Football must now put down some markers for real commitment and change."

The PFA's pledges include a commitment to exploring a reconciliation plan with Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, creating cultural resources for members, amplifying the John Moriarty Foundation's work in engaging Indigenous Australians through football, and working with organisations representing refugees and marginalised groups such as Football Empowerment.

Moves to work to introduce Indigenous recognition rounds during the 2020-21 season and the exploration of a player-led anti-discrimination campaign across the professional leagues and Australia's national teams have also been flagged.

FFA has also declared it will take steps to address the issue of racial equality, diversity and inclusion.

The recently released discussion paper entitled 'XI Principles for the future of Australian football', in which the relatively new administration of FFA Chairman Chris Nikou and FFA CEO James Johnson laid out their future vision for the Australian game, included a number of overarching goals surrounding diversity, inclusion and Indigenous recognition.

Incorporated into the document's vision statement was the goal for the Australian game to be "recognised as a leader in Indigenous sporting programs and the reconciliation process for Indigenous Australians" by 2035, and that it would play "a significant role in the lives of those which have sought refuge in Australia through innovative industry-leading programs."

Pledges to appoint a dedicated resource to lead National Indigenous programs, improve pathways for Indigenous players, increase the number of Indigenous peoples in coaching and establish both men's and women's Indigenous national teams were also included.