London (CNN)The day after Donald Trump won the US election, Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t hold back.
“I don’t think anybody can deny this guy is openly and brazenly racist and misogynistic,” he told reporters during a shoot around before a game in Phoenix.
“We have just thrown a good part of our population under the bus, and I have problems with thinking this is where we are as a country.”
Van Gundy’s outspokenness, echoed by fellow NBA coaches Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, is emblematic of a rise in political activism within American sports unseen since the Vietnam War.
Images of Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem, Carmelo Anthony joining a civil rights march, and LeBron James stumping for Hillary Clinton hardly raise eyebrows anymore..
Curiously, however, their cohorts in Europe have remained largely silent on political issues. This, despite the UK’s highly-charged Brexit referendum in June, and a surge in far-right and xenophobic sentiment on the continent.
“They don’t get involved in politics,” former NBA player John Amaechi says of his fellow British athletes. “They think it’s not their job. They think they will be instantly critiqued — which they will be — but it’s not the job of athletes to avoid critique.”
“That is an anti-risk-taking behavior, which is anti-athletics,” Amaechi, now an organizational psychologist in London, tells CNN. “I personally think abdicating your public voice is irresponsible.”
Amaechi was the first ex-NBA player to speak openly about his homosexuality when he came out in 2007.
“FIFA’s position on any form of discrimination is unequivocal: There is no place for racism or for any form of discrimination in football, as clearly described in the FIFA Statutes,” it said in a statement.
FIFA has also defended its selection of Russia, while appealing for all players to participate.
“History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” it said in a 2014 statement.
“We can achieve positive change in the world, but football cannot be seen as a solution for all issues, particularly those related to world politics.”
No poppies for the British
Further talks of a Russian boycott by prominent minority players “would make a very powerful statement,” says Maguire, “but it won’t happen.”
Maguire cites a number of hurdles, including lack of “group solidarity among African players” — even among those who have earned millions playing in Europe — because of the enormity and diversity of the continent.
Furthermore, the economic stake of losing out on a precious World Cup qualifying spot for most member countries is too high to risk a FIFA ban for political interference.
FIFA recently opened disciplinary procedures against the English and Scottish football associations for ignoring a ban on players wearing commemorative poppies during a match on Armistice Day. Wales and Northern Ireland also face punishment for the mere display of poppies — the symbol of remembrance for fallen British soldiers — during their matches.
The leeway to protest in sports other than soccer — including the NFL, which does not require its players to stand for the national anthem — is higher, says Maguire.
In 2004, England cricketer Steve Harrison refused to travel to Zimbabwe in 2004 for political reasons, while the England & Wales Cricket Board did not take action against him.
‘Why does he stand alone on this?’
Gayle says that an “overwhelming call from a senior black professional” would be necessary to garner support for a boycott of Russia 2018. “There has to be solidarity,” he says, in order to pressure other athletes to take a stand.
CNN has requested comment from 23 active black footballers who have represented England regarding playing in Russia, though they were not immediately available.
Amaechi, whose father is Nigerian, also has reservations about FIFA hosting its showcase tournament in Russia.
“One of their principles is that sport is a human right,” he says. “When they talk about their principle of inclusion of all people regardless of race, sexuality, gender, etc., that means they can’t go to a country like Russia.”
The responsibility, however, should not land on the players in the first place, he insists.
“Why is it the athletes’ job to solve this problem, when there are old men being paid to do just that in football?” asks Amaechi.
“When Yaya Toure says something so reasonable — that we should have secure places for athletes to play where they won’t be abused — why is it that he stands with a couple of athletes alone on this?”