Why Man Utd, Liverpool won’t let fans carry Palestinian flags

Published October 31, 2023
CELTIC Football Club fans wave Palestinian flags during a match against Atletico Madrid at Celtic Park in Glasgow.—Reuters/file
CELTIC Football Club fans wave Palestinian flags during a match against Atletico Madrid at Celtic Park in Glasgow.—Reuters/file

ANY attempt to express political views using the platform of sports always evokes heated debate. Agreement or disagreement with the express­ed statements and gestures aside; the issue mostly divides people over the use of sport for symbolism, political or otherwise.

The debate around this issue has been rekindled in the backdrop of the situation unfolding in Gaza following the events of Oct 7.

On Twitter, fans of Manchester United and Liverpool claimed they were evicted from stadiums for displaying flags and symbols to express solidarity with the people of Palestine.

“15 years I’ve been a season ticket holder at this club, and today they assaulted us and threw us out for displaying a Palestinian flag peacefully for 30 seconds at half time,” said a Manchester United fan, who goes by the name Laher on X (formerly Twitter).

The incident took place on Sunday at the club’s Old Trafford stadium, during a match against Manchester City, who won the game 3-0.

In a series of posts, he added the stewards “gave no reason [and] no warning” while asking him to leave.

The fan also alleged that the stewards assaulted him in the presence of Manchester police.

He claimed that in the past two weeks, flags of Greece, Armenia, Cyprus have been displayed at the stadium and added: “[Y]et a [Palestine] flag is apparently an issue.”

Two days ago, a Liverpool fan was escorted out of the club’s Anfield stadium for allegedly waving the Palestine flag and wearing a hoodie sporting a fist with ‘Free Palestine’ inscription.

The incident’s video was shared widely on X. The victim, whose X handle is lfcrazz, reposted one of the videos and wrote: “[A]ll I did was show solidarity to my people who have and are being killed every day for many decades now…”

Before these incidents, both clubs had not publicly posted on any of their social media platforms or websites about the prohibition of waving the Palestine flag in the stadium.

Meanwhile in Scotland, hardcore or ultras Celtic fans, known as The Green Brigade, have held banners of “Free Palestine” and “Victory to the resistance!!” during their team’s matches, and pledged “unequivocal support for Palestinians.

This has happened despite the Premier League’s guidance to the clubs last week to prohibit Israel and Palestinian flags inside stadiums.

But sporting events and sportsmen have, in the past, been celebrated for taking stances that have become symbolic of political expression.

For example, the legendary boxer Mohammad Ali is revered for his position on the civil rights issues in the US and his refusal to enlist for the Vietnam War, which even earned him some jail time.

In cricket too, apartheid South Africa was ostracised for over two decades over the government’s policy of discrimination along racial lines.

Throughout history, sports continue to offer a platform to raise voice for just causes and condemn atrocities.

While the relationship betw­een the two is subjective, the undeniable underlying factor is that sports and politics are so intricately linked that the mere suggestion “don’t mix sports and politics” is not going to untangle them, or erase history.

Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2023

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