By Tony Attwood
The issue of what we can and can’t chant in a football ground has been lurking around for over a year now in Spain. Indeed last year when the Spanish Professional Football League’s announced that it would fine supporters who sing offensive songs, the fans started to re-write their chants, putting their new ideas on Twitter under “#canticoscorrectos .”
I must admit that amuses me – although that is not to say that I do in any way accept racist, sexual or similar chanting as acceptable. So when Porto fans subjected Mario Balotelli of Manchester City to racist abuse during a Europa League game in 2012 I thought it right to fine the club. The trouble was the fine was £16,600. Ten times that would have been far too little.
But the whole notion that the Uefa Champions League anthem is the equivalent to a national anthem is nonsense of course, just as the whole notion that clubs should be fined for their fans booing a national anthem. But it is part of the Uefa / Fifa vision that it is a country and has all the rights of another country. (And even if it was a country, I would still want the right to boo someone else’s national anthem.)
Fifa/Uefa pay no taxes, demand their own Zil lanes, and have for years acted in a way that shows they believe themselves to be 100% above anyone’s laws but their own – which of course are written to allow them to take as much money as they want whenever they want it. But want some people locked up for wearing a non-authorised T-shirt? – you know who to call.
So we come to the booing of the Uefa “The Champions” anthem by Man City fans who have not yet got over the fact that their club was fined money it could easily pay for trying to fiddle its way around FFP restrictions, and here I am with Man City. Except…
… there is a real irony with the fact that Uefa is having a go at Man City in relation to freedom of speech since it is owned by a man who is a senior leader of a country that can boast the fact that when it comes to freedom of speech it is pretty much at the bottom of the league.
Here’s a quick summary from Wikipedia on the subject
The UAE does not have democratically-elected institutions and citizens do not have the right to change their government or to form political parties. There are reports of forced disappearances in the UAE, many foreign nationals and Emirati citizens have been abducted by the UAE government and illegally detained in undisclosed locations. In numerous instances, the UAE government has tortured people in custody and has denied their citizens the right to a speedy trial and access to counsel during official investigations.
Flogging and stoning are legal forms of judicial punishment in the UAE due to Sharia courts. The government restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and the local media is censored in order to avoid criticizing the government, government officials or royal families. Freedom of association and freedom of religion are also curtailed.
Which makes the whole thing a bit odd when a club that is run by Abu Dhabi’s billions upon billions of oil dollars should be criticised for allowing too much freedom of speech – or rather too much booing.
Of course it is nonsense, as the Guardian pointed out “Uefa is not a country, or a race of people. It’s … an unceasing buffet lunch.”
Now there is a general feeling among football commentators at the moment that Man City will be let off with a warning. After all when there are outbursts of overt racism in eastern Europe the fine is usually about 50p.
If that happens then the booing will probably continue, and so there will be another report and then ever more vigorous booing. Will other clubs’ supporters join in? Probably not because most of us think it was quite right that Man C should be fined – pointless though the fine was – and not many of us like the UAE. Indeed I have always found the sponsorship of our stadium by the Emirates Airline as a profound embarrassment. Not enough for me to abandon my love of Arsenal, but a matter of sincere regret.
But it is the abject confusion within Man City that is rather interesting. The freedom to take the money from a bunch of tyrants for whom freedom and democracy is as nothing, while demanding the right to boo an organisation that they have voluntarily joined is, well, fractionally contradictory. I can object to the beliefs and power of the deputy prime minister of Abu Dhabi, because I do what I can to uphold freedom of speech. Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan has no place in the debate whatsoever as he is a tyrant in a tyrannical regime. I’d still like our home to be called Stadium Wenger.
It is even more interesting that as the Guardian pointed out Abdullah Qassem of the Arabian Gulf League club al-Dhafra, and a United Arab Emirates international, was imprisoned [imprisoned note, not dropped], for criticising his national team manager. So Uefa and the United Arab Emirates are on the same side in wanting to stop freedom of speech while Man City and its supporters are on both sides at once – happily accepting Abu Dhabi’s money but not liking it when its anti-freedom rules are applied to them.
As the Guardian said, “Certainly it would be fascinating to listen in on the attempts to explain to Sheikh Mansour, whose people can be imprisoned for criticising the government and beheaded for blasphemy, that what must be protected here at all costs is the fans’ basic right to defy authority.”
Even more interestingly, it seems that Pellegrini seems to believe fans have a right to protest peacefully. I wonder if he has told his pay-masters.
Back in Spain the League has charged Barcelona after supporters sang songs following Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday party. “Cristiano es un borracho” (Cristiano is a drunk) seemed to be taking matters a little too far in the ears of the authorities and they got agitated about their national [albeit Portuguese] icon being laughed at.
It is said that a video appeared showing the player singing about his craving for sex. I haven’t seen it so couldn’t possibly comment.
Despite the taunts from Barca fans, the Portuguese winger is, according to reports, teetotal. Reports also say that Ronaldo’s father died of an illness related to alcoholism in 2005.
The matter has been taken to the league’s Anti-Violence Commission and the Competition Committee.
Meanwhile Uefa has also started disciplinary proceedings against Barcelona whose fans waved separatist flags and chanted in support of Catalan independence at the last Champions League final. Ah politics. Nasty business. Except when, as in the UAE or North Korea they are banned. These countries are more than welcome in the Fifa household.
Josep Maria Bartomeu made a statement at the time, saying, “Uefa needs to get to know much better what Barca is and what Catalonia is. It is a democratic club which respects freedom of expression and any demonstration by its members is legitimate.”
Barcelona also got the ire of some in Spain when its fans whistled during the national anthem at the King’s Cup final against Athletic Bilbao last May. Actually both sets of supporters whistled – as Bilbao is in the Basque Country, and they don’t like being Spanish much either. Indeed I can remember when Scotland regularly played England at Wembley and they booed the UK National Anthem. It happens.
It seems to me there shouldn’t be much debate here. Racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and other forms of religious extremism are either illegal or roundly despised in civilised societies and chants which extol them in any form should be stopped. Arsenal has been very much at the forefront of this and I think has been very successful from what I hear. But expressing a dislike of a political party, a foreign state, or a system of government (be it a dictatorship like the UAE, or a monarchy like Spain or the UK, or a trumped up bunch of nobodies with far too much power and tax-free income like Uefa and Fifa) is the essence of our democracy and that right must be protected.
I would go so far as to say that if Fifa or Uefa is seriously trying to stop political statements at football matches while ruling over such an obviously corrupt process in itself, that is beyond the last straw. They stepped over the line long ago, but now surely they have to be stopped in their megalomaniac approach. Time for all democratic countries to withdraw from Fifa and Uefa.
But then that’s just me. I tend to get a bit worked up about the protection of democratic rights. It is one of those things I learned from my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and it tends to get deep inside one’s view of the world.
The latest meanderings from the History Society….
- Why was the first Arsenal side called Dial Square, and why did it only last one game?
- New major article: Herbert Chapman’s first year at Arsenal, analysed as never before.
- A Memorial to the founders of Arsenal’s Highbury dynasty.
- 28 October 1953: Racing Club de Paris 2 Arsenal 4, in the continuing series of matches to raise money for ex-servicemen, initiated by Herbert Chapman.
- 28 October 1992: Cup Match 3 of Arsenal’s Cup Double season. Derby 1 Arsenal 1 in the 3rd round of the League Cup. Campbell scored as he had scored the only open play goals in each of two games against Millwall