Should sports stadiums remain politically neutral?

to analyze

Before England and Iran, the English “eleven” knelt to protest inequality and racism. – Reuters.

Should sports stadiums remain politically neutral?

Posted on Monday, November 21, 2022 at 8:01 pm

by William Burton and Pascal Martin

In the face of the threats of “sports sanctions” launched by FIFA, the seven European teams that announced their intention to wear the “One Love” badge on the grounds of the World Cup abandoned their project. So it seems that direct criticism of the host country, Qatar, of the rights of the LGBTQ+ community has been avoided. But, after the door slammed, politics nonetheless returned out the window: ahead of England and Iran, the English ‘eleven’ knelt to protest inequality and racism while the Iranian players did not sing their national anthems in support of the victims. protests in their country.

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Does the apparent defense of a cause have its place in the sports arena? For Michel de Hugy, former president of the Belgian Football Association and member of the FIFA Executive Committee, the answer is no.

“I am a supporter of the fact that politics and sports are two completely separate fields,” he explains to us. “There is this wonderful French expression: ‘meeting of football.’ It means that people from different walks of life, of different colours, of different political views, of different religions gather around a ball. I think this is one of the biggest virtues of football and you have to respect it and leave religion behind. And politics etc. outside of it. Let football remain football. Every free man has the right to express his opinions. A footballer is like everyone else, but outside of what is exclusively football. On the pitch, I ask everyone to ‘stay in football’ Football must remain a “meeting.” »

legally questionable

Thierry Granterco, a lawyer in Paris and Brussels bars specializing in sports, who also worked for FIFA (during the “Sep Blatter” years: 1998-2015), where he dealt mainly with disciplinary issues and related to the federation’s regulations, does not share this opinion at all. For him, the expression of political opinions in sports is an “irremediable” phenomenon.

“Sports are political and always have been,” he says. “At the international level, all the awarding of major competitions to this or that country is the result of political settlements, not sports at all. So far, the fact that there are competitions taking place in Russia, China, Qatar, etc. does not seem to bother anyone, but citizens have taken advantage of this debate. Today, “Footballers are embarrassed in Qatar. They all try to express the fact that they have morals. The fact that an athlete or a club cannot convey a political message is no longer politically acceptable today and moreover it seems to me legally questionable.”

For Thierry Grantorcu, society has changed and it’s time to review the regulations. He said, was it in order to align it with the law…

“You can search in the texts for an article that supports the lack of freedom of expression on the ground, you will not find a legal basis for that, because freedom of expression is part of these basic rights that are above all considerations,” the lawyer argues. I cannot imagine that the barriers erected today to this evidence will last much longer. This only applies for now because there is some kind of deal with a respectable man between different actors. »

“Sport cannot depend on freedom of expression”

Our interlocutor compares this deal with a respectable man To what was prevalent in the past between club managers and football authorities in terms of restricting the transfer of players. And then, in December 1995, he was taken over by Belgian player Jean-Marc Bosman, the Court of Justice of the European Communities issued a ruling confirming that under European law, any footballer is free to participate wherever he wants. His contract expires. …

“For decades, transfer restrictions for players were considered more or less normal; today we realize that there are basic principles that are more important than UEFA or FIFA regulations,” continues Thierry Granterco. “Sport cannot depend on freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right found in all major international and European texts.”

But what From Michel Doug’s objection – not the only one carrying it – that matches must remain strictly “meetings”, and that if everyone starts offering their opinions in the park, the risk is real that they become “clashes”? …

“In fact, the expression of these opinions is already there: think for example of the expressions of religion, of the players who autograph themselves before going on the field”, answers Thierry Granterco. “It is the manner in which these opinions express themselves that we must effectively frame. The ban is no longer tenable, but despite that, not everything will be acceptable on the sporting front.”

For permanent results

In a less normative way, some may question the true impact of wearing a particular badge during World Cup matches on the fate of the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar… Former British midfielder Thomas Petty, one of the few professional footballers who made it Outthe case last month, during a lecture given at the University of Oxford.

“If we see sport as a ‘vehicle of change,’ we must aim for real structural change, not just change for a specific period of time,” he said. “We should aim for the LGBTQ+ community in Qatar to feel free, safe and protected after the World Cup, when everyone else is gone. But staging the World Cup in Qatar was clearly not motivated by change…”

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