Elliott Bennett believes football can help ‘set a standard’ to educate people’s views around racism – as the game continues to play a key role in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Players, officials and coaching staff have taken a knee before every Premier League and Championship fixture, while top-flight clubs have also adorned ‘Black Lives Matter’ instead of a players’ name.

Bennett has spoken out on the subject on social media, and believes football can be force for change, citing the excellent off-field work of England internationals Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford.

“Within the dressing rooms you only have to look across the football leagues, the diversity is incredible,” he said.

“You have people from all different backgrounds, races, religions, I don’t think there’s a better place to be than being in a football club training ground, everyone gets along, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or what colour your skin is.

“I think football in general has a massive role to play because it’s so well followed, especially the Premier League, they have millions of people who hang on their every word.

“I think it’s important football tries to set a standard for how people should look at it.

“I’m not sure football could do much more than it’s trying to do, other than to not let this be a thing that happens and then ‘we just do it for one game and then we forget about it’.

“We have to make sure we’re hammering home the messages, and if there’s racist abuse then that person isn't allowed in the stadium again, they’re not welcome within any football ground and I think that sets the tone for others.”

The movements have largely been player-driven, something the Rovers captain believes is key.

“I think it has to be, not doing something because people in authority are telling us ‘wear a t-shirt today, but don’t worry about next week’,” he added.

“Anything that goes on, supporting the NHS on the front of shirt which is fantastic for what they have given to the country, I think it’s important players have a voice and they use their platform, and if they’re allowed to use it in the right manner, then I think players have a lot more power than we think we have.

“The fines and punishment need to be a lot harsher for clubs, and that way people within the club that really care, that are behind their club will weed out those that are not welcome in football, or society, in my opinion.

“If you can get that going the good people in football, the 99.99 per cent, will root out those that are setting a bad example.”

Football returned in earnest last week, with Rovers back in action, albeit behind closed doors, against Bristol City. Victory moved them within one point of the top six, and while there was a different feeling surrounding the game, Bennett believes acclimatising quickly will have a big say on results.  Rovers were one of just two teams, along with Cardiff City, to win at home, and with five of their remaining eight matches coming on their travels, they will hope that trend continues.

There was artificial crowd noise at Ewood, in a bid to make the atmosphere less eerie, but Bennett admitted: “I didn’t really notice it that much to be honest. It’s not overly loud, thankfully. It’s just different, the whole situation is, but I’d rather it be this way and until it’s safe for fans to come back in the ground it’s the right decision.

“For the integrity of the league it’s right to play out the season on the grass and you end up where you end up, rather than some formula that someone in a suit comes up with.

“There’s quite a few teams in with a real opportunity to push in to the play-offs. We’re one point off, so very close, so there’s eight games to go and a lot can happen.

“This league is crazy, and you never know which way the games are going to go, particularly the situation we’re in playing behind closed doors it’s who will acclimatise to the conditions, fitness in the legs.

“Form goes out the window and it’s a mini tournament to see where you end up in the league.”

Bennett led Rovers out, less than a month after recording a positive result in the second round of Covid-19 testing.

He admits that came as ‘a massive shock’, but displaying no symptoms, was able to return after a period of self-isolation.

“There’s probably not a safer place to be than the professional football environment currently. It’s important they’re showing a willingness to get the games done but that the players are comfortable with the situation.”

  • Elliott Bennett was speaking on the ‘Football, the Albion and Me’ podcast, where he also discussed his early years, his spells with Norwich and Brighton, Rovers’ play-off hopes and Christian Walton.

To listen to the podcast in full visit:  https://anchor.fm/footballthealbionandme or for morem visit @footyalbionme on Twitter.