Of Flags and Football

The football hooligans are at it again but this time instead of street riots and violence, they are raising hell with flags and fundraisers. With the recent news of Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand during the U.S. national anthem and Gabby Douglas not placing her hand over her heart during the anthem at the 2016 Summer Olympics, the question of whether or not politics and sports should mix has been on a lot of minds. While it is really only a debate over etiquette in the United States, the mixing of politics and sports is actually a punishable offense in Ireland.

During a recent soccer game between Ireland’s Celtics and Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva, fans of the Celtic team waved Palestinian flags and cheered on the Celtics against the Israelis. This obviously carried with it an overt political message of not only standing against the Hapoel Be’er Sheva in the Champions League qualifier, but also against Israel’s violent oppression of the Palestinian people. For this action, the Celtic Football Club was fined by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) for violating their ban against, “gestures, words, objects or any other means to transmit any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature.”

In response, a group of fans calling themselves the Green Brigade set up a crowdfunding campaign on GoFundMe to #MatchTheFineForPalestine. Together they have collected more than £130,000 to donate to Palestinian charities, including Medical Aid Palestine, which provides medical care for those injured or harmed “by conflict, occupation and displacement”, and the Lajee Centre, an effort to help Palestinian children in the Aida refugee camp start their very own soccer team to compete in the Bethlehem Youth League, which they have affectionately dubbed the Aida Celtic as a thank you.

Since then, many Palestinians have filmed thankful response videos for the Celtic show of support in defiance of the UEFA, proving that sports and politics can mix in ways that are helpful for those who are oppressed by governments worldwide, “from Ferguson to Palestine,” as the saying goes, even if it pisses off a few overly-patriotic sports fans in the process. Oh, and to add the icing to the cake: the Celtics swept the floor with the Hapoel Be’er Sheva, beating the Israeli team 5-2 in the home victory. And soon, thanks to their Irish comrades, I’m sure we’ll see the Aida Celtic winning a number of symbolic victories as well on their way towards freedom.

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