RCIR challenges UEFA on the right to fly national flags in football stadia

RCIR challenges UEFA on the right to fly national flags in football stadia

Our post on 5 September revealed UEFA had fined three clubs whose spectators waved the Palestinian flag.  We have objected to UEFA as follows in a letter to Mr Platini as order and security was not threatened and conflict in the region is irrelevant.

26th September 2014.

Dear Mr Platini,

RCIR is extremely concerned by the imposition of substantial fines by UEFA on three clubs – Dundalk, Celtic and St Johnstone FCs – following the display of the Palestinian flag by fans at Europa and Champions League qualifying matches over the summer.

Media reports[1] state that these sanctions have been imposed for the infringement of article 16(2)(e) of UEFA’s Disciplinary Regulations – in other words, the raising of the Palestinian flag at those matches has been deemed to transmit [a] message that is not fit for a sports event[2], such that order and security was threatened.

This seems to us to be an absurd charge and a gross abuse of the disciplinary process. There is no context within which the Palestinian flag can be said to promote disorder and to be unfit for display. To suggest otherwise is an insult of quite staggering proportions – to Palestinian sportspeople, their fans, and the Palestinian nation as a whole. Football fans have always had the right to display their allegiance to the national flag of any FIFA member. It has never been controversial.

The same media reports state that the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body deem the Palestinian flag to be a contentious symbol, on the basis that “the conflict in the region is ongoing.” But this reasoning does not stand up to the slightest examination.

Will UEFA now ban the flags of all countries involved in ongoing conflict? What about those of the Ukraine and Russia? Or the United Kingdom and Argentina? Or North and South Korea? If the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body truly intends to act on this principle it must do so consistently and impartially.

In fact it appears that the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body has no such intention. Please note that the Israeli flag was raised at last week’s Champions League fixtures at the Bernabéu and the Westfalenstadion[3]. Was this matter raised by the UEFA delegates present at those matches? Will Real Madrid CF and BV Borussia Dortmund now face similar fines to those incurred over the summer by Dundalk, Celtic and St Johnstone? We doubt it.

On the contrary, it seems to us that the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body has acted with a transparent lack of integrity and fairness that can only bring UEFA into disrepute.

You will be aware of the Palestine FA’s ongoing dispute with its Israeli counterpart over the  systematic violation of Palestinian sporting rights[4]. PFA President Jibril Rajoub has frequently observed that Israel does not even recognise Palestine as a sporting entity with the same rights as other nations[5]. It is of fundamental importance that international football authorities should not echo that lack of respect.

RCIR understands that Dundalk, Celtic and St Johnstone FCs have each appealed against their fines – and of course the appeals process must be allowed to operate without interference.

Nevertheless, we urge you to act swiftly to

  • investigate the members of the Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body on charges of gross dereliction of duty and/or improper conduct
  • take all actions necessary to ensure that UEFA upholds the values that it claims to stand for.

[1]    e.g. http://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/dundalk-fined-18k-for-palestine-flag-flown-against-hajduk-split-30530506.html, http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/sport/celtic-st-johnstone-fined-uefa-4150513

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