Anwar El Ghazi posted pro-Palestinian posts on Instagram and was fired by Mainz. UEFA banned Celtic fans from waving Palestinian flags; they stuck up their proverbial middle finger and did it anyway. Real Sociedad supporters came to the match against Almería in white suits and masks covered in blood. They also showed the Palestinian flag.
Tarik Tissoudali and Ismaël Kandouss wanted to show their support for Palestine in the match against Anderlecht. The referee asked both players to take off their armbands because it was a political symbol. “I don’t think this is really political,” Tissoudali said afterwards. He referred to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. “It was allowed for another country and now it is not.”
This is what the association regulations state: “The equipment may not display slogans, messages or images of a political, religious or personal character.” Tissoudali and Kandouss were not in order on Sunday evening. The KBVB in Tubize does not take a position on the conflict and asks everyone to strictly apply the regulations.
Only… Players who make the sign of the cross before entering the field or pray after a goal are allowed. Ukrainian flags were waved. Where is the line drawn then? Who decides whether something is a political or religious symbol?
Freedom of speech
Tissoudali believes the ban on his Palestinian bracelet is a restriction on his freedom of expression. “I can do whatever I want, right? I don’t do it because it is an Arab country, I think everyone deserves to live in peace. I am against war, against mass murder and for freedom.”
Emeritus professor and sports sociologist Bart Vanreusel (KU Leuven) understands the players and the rules in football. “It does indeed make you think,” he says. “But it is difficult to translate such a conflict onto a football field.”
He adds: “Professional football should not serve as a megaphone or billboard for parties and conflicts, only resulting in more intolerance, including in the stands. If football has to do anything, it is to call with all its capabilities for an end to violence from all parties and to call for tolerance, peace and solidarity. Show initiatives worldwide that allow young football players of Palestinian, Jewish or any other origin to play football together. Football can do that. This does not only apply to football, but to all sports. A person playing can be disarming, especially when so many children are involved in a conflict.”
Inquiries at some top Belgian clubs reveal that they have not given specific guidelines to the players. At Antwerp they count on the common sense of the players. Anderlecht called the players group together at the outbreak of the war. “If they want to express their feelings or support, we would like to know this in advance. But our players are allowed to express themselves.” AA Gent, finally, was not aware that Tissoudali and Kandouss would wear a Palestinian bracelet.