Politics and sport do not mix – that was the response from the Chaplain for Sport in relation to pro-Palestinian flags being waved by Celtic football fans during a game against an Israeli team last week.
Mgr Vladimir Felzmann, who is also the chief executive of John Paul II Foundation 4 Sport UK, said that context is crucial when waving flags at sporting events. “As things are, in the beautiful but imperfect world in which we live, for the sake of unity and harmony especially in the more sensitive areas of our global city, prudence and wisdom – call it common sense – would urge caution: “Go light on flags at sporting-events,” he told The Universe.
“The pitch is for the game. Politics have to be for the après-game.”
His warning on the place of politics in sport came following Glasgow Celtic FC being charged by UEFA over an ‘illicit banner’ display after fans of the club waved Palestinian flags around Celtic Park during their Champions League play off first leg victory against Hapoel Beer Sheva. The Hoops beat the Israeli side 5-2 during the first leg, which took place on Wednesday, 17th August.
However, Ambassador Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian Authority’s diplomatic representative to the UK, told The Universe that when it comes to Palestine it is very difficult to keep politics out of any aspect of Palestinian life under occupation. He noted that just a few weeks ago Israel had prevented a team from Gaza from leaving Gaza and playing in the occupied West Bank.
He said that Palestinian Olympic athletes could not train properly because of restrictions of movement through the checkpoints and as well as this the Israeli Football Association is contravening FIFA regulations by allowing football teams from the illegal Israeli settlements to participate in the Israeli league.
“The Palestinian flags raised and waved at Celtic Park by Celtic fans reflect the deep friendship between Scotland and Palestine,” he added.
In the wake of the UEFA charge, Celtic fans launched a campaign to raise funds for two Palestinian charities, titled ‘#matchthefineforpalestine’.
The campaign described the flying of Palestinian flags at Celtic Park as an ‘act of solidarity’ and claimed that it had earned Celtic ‘respect and acclaim throughout the world.
‘It has also attracted a disciplinary charge from UEFA, which deems the Palestinian flag to be an ‘illicit banner’, it said. The fans said that in response to the “petty and politically partisan act by European football’s governing body”, they were determined to make a positive contribution to the game, thus launching the campaign.
They initially aimed to raise £15,000 to be split between Medical Aid Palestine (MAP) and the Lajee Centre, a Palestinian creative cultural children’s centre in Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem. Within two days the campaign had raised over £100,000.
UEFA has punished Celtic eight times in five seasons for fan misconduct. The latest case will be heard on 22nd
The Embassy of Israel told The Universe they had no comment on the incident.
Celtic face Aberdeen at Celtic Park this afternoon. Kick off is at 3.00pm.
Picture: Fans hold up a Palestinian flag as the Celtic team coach arrives during the UEFA Champions League qualifying play-off, first leg match at Celtic Park, Glasgow. (Jeff Holmes/PA).