ZURICH: World football governing body FIFA has asked competition organisers to use“common sense” with players who show messages of protest over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in police custody in the United States.
The recognition by FIFA of the “depth of sentiment” over Floyd’s death came in a rare statement, which marks a change from a previous strong line against players displaying messages on the field, telling the global game to show flexibility and not enforce laws of football it helps to set.
FIFA regulations bar players from displaying any “political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images” on their kit. Since 2014, this ban has included undershirts — a response to players lifting up their shirts to display a message after scoring a goal.
But several players used weekend games in Germany’s Bundesliga to reveal messages expressing solidarity with Floyd, a handcuffed black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes after he stopped moving and pleading for air.
The German Football Association (DFB) announced earlier Monday that it was assessing whether to sanction the players for breaking laws of the game.
FIFA fully understands the depth of sentiment and concerns expressed by many footballers in light of the tragic circumstances of the George Floyd case,” FIFA said in a statement.
The application of the laws of the game ... is left for the competitions’ organisers, which should use common sense and have in consideration the context surrounding the events.”
FIFA controls half of the eight votes on the International Football Association Board, which approves the laws. The other four votes are held by England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. A law change in 2014 proposed by England led to players being banned from revealing personal statements on undergarments.
England winger Jadon Sancho was booked while playing for Borussia Dortmund on Sunday for removing his jersey a yellow-card offence only so he could reveal a T-shirt with a “Justice for George Floyd” message but the DFB said it was not due to his message but because he broke the rules on removing shirts.
This is defined under rule number 12 as behaviour that is clearly against the rules and should be seen as independent of any political message,” said Lutz Michael Froehlich, head of the elite referees unit of the DFB.
For referees it is not possible to make a judgement during a match about political, religious or personal slogans, messages or pictures,” Froehlich added.
Sancho’s Borussia Dortmund team-mate Achraf Hakimi displayed the same message on a T-shirt after scoring in the same game but was not booked because he did not lift his jersey over his head.
In the Bundesliga on Saturday, American midfielder Weston McKennie wore an armband over his Schalke jersey with the handwritten message “Justice for George,” and Borussia Mnchengladbach forward Marcus Thuram took a knee after scoring for Borussia Moenchengladbach in another game.
The expressions of protest are being investigated by the DFB’s control body, although president Fritz Keller said he understood their actions.
If people are discriminated against because of the colour of their skin, it is unbearable,” said Keller. If they die as a result of the colour of their skin, then I am deeply disturbed. The victims of racism need all of our solidarity.”
On Tuesday, Newcastle United players posed taking a knee, in the style of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who popularised the gesture as a way to protest racial issues. Liverpool players had done the same on Monday and several players made statements on social media.
Spurred in part by Floyd’s death, protesters have taken to the streets of the United States and other nations to decry the killings of black people by police.
FIFA acknowledging the anguish over racial inequalities highlighted by Floyd’s death comes amid ongoing criticism football is not doing enough to eradicate or punish racism.
“FIFA had repeatedly expressed itself to be resolutely against racism and discrimination of any kind and recently strengthened its own disciplinary rules with a view to helping to eradicate such behaviours,” the Zurich-based governing body said.
“FIFA itself has promoted many anti-racism campaigns which frequently carry the anti-racism message at matches organised under its own auspices.”
Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2020