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Craig Farrell is here to discuss FIFA’s disciplinary process in dealing with religious and political acts in football. 

Argentina were recently fined by FIFA for brandishing a banner which was in breach of article 60 of the FIFA Stadium Safety and Security Regulations and article 52 of the FIFA Disciplinary Code.

FIFA, in a typical flaccid manner, fined Argentina the equivalent of €24,700, which is a mere drop in the ocean of the nation’s football association’s finances considering the windfall of €18.6 million that they secured as runners-up of the World Cup.

The banner in question was displayed in front of the team during a World Cup warm-up friendly against Slovenia in June. The banner said ‘Las Malvinas Son Argentinas’, which translates into ‘The Falkland Islands belong to Argentina’, relating to the archipelago of the coast of the South America country, which has been under British rule since 1833, and was the focal point of the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina.

The fine was imposed by FIFA under the sanction heading of ‘political action’ and ‘team misconduct’, but are FIFA being realistic in expecting the sport not to be politically driven and have political agendas? The sport that embraces all races and religions, all kinds and creeds is bound to have politics, both national and global, stemming from it.

The term ‘political football’ has roots as far back as the late 1880’s, and refers to an issue that is constantly discussed or debated but ultimately left unresolved – ironically politics in football have become wider and wider as FIFA, UEFA and domestic Football Associations decide which political agenda to squash and which to let fester.

Fascist Football

Politics and football is a dirty love affair. Despite FIFA’s wish to portray themselves as politically correct and all encompassing, the foundation of football has been built with politics and political issues blending into the concrete.

In 1938, the World Cup was gifted to Italy – Benito Mussolini’s Italy. We won’t delve into the twisted love affair between Mussolini and Lazio, but at the ’38 World Cup the hosts were due to meet France. As France were granted the permission of using their home strip of blue, Benito ordered his nation to wear fascist black as oppose to their traditional white away colours.

Mussolini also ordered his Italian side to win the trophy or not bother returning home – luckily for them they managed to lift it, coincidentally.

What was FIFA to do?

This scenario played out once again in the 1978 World Cup that was hosted by Argentina. Although Jorge Videla did not alter his nation’s kit, he was bestowed with the honour of handing out the winners’ medal’s – coincidentally to the hosts whom just so happened to be the winning nation. We won’t get into the 6-0 victory over Peru in the final group game of the second group stage which led to Argentina surpassing Brazil on goal difference.

Again, what was FIFA to do? Maybe not host the World Cup – the pinnacle of footballing tournament’s in another fascist state. Maybe then Johan Cruyff would have been able to attend the greatest of footballing spectacles as oppose to boycotting the tournament based on it’s geographical location.

Both Mussolini and Videla used football as a political tool to promote their agenda. Mussolini needed to garner popular support among his people – which he did by presenting them with the World Cup tournament and ultimately a World Cup victory, while Videla needed to present his country as one of harmony and peace to the rest of the globe. Football as mere propaganda with thanks to FIFA.

Let’s not forget the English national team who were ordered by the nation’s Foreign Office to perform the Nazi salute when they visited Hitler’s Germany in 1938 for a friendly match.

The Football War

In 1969, Honduras and El Salvador fought a metaphorical battle in the second North American qualifying round for the right to head to Mexico for the 1970 FIFA World Cup. Honduras won the first game, which was marred with violent clashes between supports. El Salvador won the second game which had similar clashes among fans. A third, playoff game, was scheduled to decided who would win the qualifying stage as both team were level on three points each. El Salvador won the metaphorical war on the same day an actual war began between the nations.

The context behind this war was based on socio-economic issues that stemmed from land reforms in Honduras. This tension was intensified due to the three games that were battles that were played out on the pitch. Despite football being the catalyst for what is now known as the ‘Football War’ (or ‘100 Hour War’) FIFA took no action against either nation’s FA, and El Salvador were allowed to make their trip to Mexico (after beating Haiti in the subsequent qualifying round).

Culture Club

The collective genius of FIFA felt that religion could be a potential cause of unrest which led to them banning all religion symbols from football pitches – but why are players allowed to bless themselves, cross themselves or pray in a religious manner? FIFA logic at its finest.

To remove religious or political agenda from football is impossible. To some, religion is not apart of them, it is who they are – it makes them. And the same can be said for various football clubs around the globe.

Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers enact one of the most bitter of rivalries that a domestic league has to offer. This rivalry is based on religion; Catholic vs Protestant. To remove religion from football would be to kill these two clubs as religion is a part of their identity. It has been bred into the culture of the club and its support from conception.

Sectarianism has come to define the Glasgow derby and the grudge that is held between these two clubs. It is possible to combat the violent outbursts among fans; attempt to limit and hopefully expel all violent mannerisms from this encounter but to remove the religious aspect is impossible. It would be the equivalent of rewriting the club’s history and redetermining its culture.

Religion is one aspect of a club’s culture, and politics or geopolitics is another characteristic of this. Just take a quick look at Spain’s elite division.

Athletic Club – better known as Athletic Bilbao – stem from a small region in Spain called Biscay. They are the club which represent the Basque country within Spain. The team has a policy of only signing players of Basque descendancy. Bilbao is the second oldest club in Spanish football – a year older than Barcelona – and are one of just three clubs never to be relegated from La Liga (Barcelona and Real Madrid being the other two).

The club has long been considered a political tool for the Basque separatist in Spain, and many of the club’s board have been strong supporters of ETA, the Basque separatist group. To remove the political agenda of Bilboa would be to remove the club in its entirety, and in doing so would be removing one of the most historic and relevant clubs in Spain’s football chasm.

Bilbao are not alone in their extreme views of regionalism. After the 1995 season, the Galicia based, Deportivo La Coruna threatened to break from Spain’s La Liga and join the Portuguese League.

Much like religion has shaped the identity of the Glaswegian clubs, regionalism and geopolitics has played a massive role in the shaping of Bilbao, Deportivo and various other clubs.

Assyriska, a club based in Sweden, was created in the mid ’70’s and represents the interests of the Levantine people, and that of the Assyrian Diaspora. A club based solely on a geopolitical basis would be redundant if the political elements were to be removed. The Moscow rivalry between Dynamo and Spartak is similar. Dynamo was the team of the Soviet state security services, while Spartak offered the dissenters footballing refuge.

Pick A Poppy

FIFA first banned England from wearing the remembrance poppy on their kits. They then revoked their ban and allowed the English to wear the emblem on a black armband. This complete contradiction of their own ban shows the entire sanction process against religious or political symbols for the farce that it is. Yet another FIFA fiasco.

The English Prime Minister claimed that there was “no political connotations whatsoever” associated with the poppies. But is that the case? The poppy is worn within the domestic leagues of England during remembrance week to commemorate the soldiers of World War I. James McClean was lambasted with criticism for his decision to infamously refuse to wear the poppy. McClean, who was born and raised in Derry, refused to wear the symbol due to his upbringing in the Creggan area of Derry, where a number of his neighbours were killed by the British Army during Bloody Sunday.

Pick and Choose

The problem with political correctness is that there is no such thing. Everyone is different and therefore have different views and opinions – also the fact that football is so universal and globally reaching there is also the interpretation and cultural differences that are attached with globalism that can not all be combatted.

Egyptian Mohamed Aboutrika revealed a t-shirt with ‘sympathise with Gaza’ emblazoned on it after scoring a goal in during a 2008 African Cup of Nations. The t-shirt was exposed to protest Israel’s 10-day blockade of Gaza. He was met by a yellow card and the threat of further sanctions – which never arose.

Clearly this gesture would be offensive to pro-Zionists who argue for the cause of a single Israeli state. This celebration would be admired by those who support the Palestinian cause and are opposed to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Arsenal put a ban on all national flags in the Emirates Stadium including the English flag – which was later rescinded – as there were complaints that the St. Georges flag could be deemed as offensive.

During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA banned all journalists from asking politically motivated question to the North Korean players and staff. Not only is this imposing on the right of free speech which all journalists have the right to work under – but FIFA were themselves being political pawns to the North Korean government by being complicit in the secrecy of the North Korean regime.

FIFA has once again has shown itself to be the fool. It sets itself up for failure and takes the bait each and every time. Asking players to be removed of political or religious principles is asking them to be void of themselves. FIFA’s slogan is ‘For The Game, For The World’; how can there be a world without ‘political action’?

Craig Farrell, Pundit Arena.

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