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No UEFA Respect for Palestine or their national flag at Celtic Park One rule for UEFA, one rule for others

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UEFA plan to extend Celtic’s recent string of punishments after they launched disciplinary proceedings over the flying, en masse, of Palestinian flags at Celtic Park on Wednesday night.

Celtic supporters group the Green Brigade targeted the Champions League playoff match against Israeli outfit Hapoel Be’er Sheeva to raise awareness of the impossible living conditions in occupied Palestine, where Celtic fans have a long history of involvement with charitable causes.

Though the Green Brigade’s work conflicted once more with UEFA’s overbearing disciplinary regulation Article 16 (2), which forbids supporters from almost any form of expression, a sharper conflict exists between this regulation and the governing body’s own respect campaign.

Eye-catching advertisements for UEFA’s social campaign framed scenes of the Celtic supporters’ alleged illicit behaviour from Wednesday night. Respect aims to see European Football promote “diversity, peace and reconciliation, football for all, health, respect for the environment and the campaign against discrimination, racism and violence,” yet article 16 (2) outlaws actions which appear in harmony with this notion of respect.

A statement released yesterday by the Green Brigade cites their charitable connection to Palestine, the need to illuminate the suffering of Palestinians, and the conflict’s effect on the wellbeing of Palestinian football as motives for their protest. While seemingly very compatible with UEFA’s wish for peace, reconciliation and football for all, the protest’s political edge triggered an inevitable response from the governing body’s ethics committee.

Imagining how a club or supporters group could possibly enhance ‘football for all,’ peace and reconciliation, or condemn discrimination, racism and violence without touching upon politics is challenging. As it stands, UEFA is happy to receive awards and plaudits for blazoning the word respect around stadiums and on televisions, while penalising grassroots movements that aspire to actively promote elements of their campaign.

The issue of Palestine is always volatile; before, during and now after Celtic’s qualifier, hotly politicised debates about the conflict and Celtic fans’ protest distracted from the usual chatter of the forums and supporters’ groups of Scottish Football. Political opinions aside, there is a clear impasse between the image of itself that UEFA hopes to convey to the world, and its willingness to condemn charitable supporters groups.

Celtic were previously fined in 2014, alongside Scottish Premiership rival St Johnstone and Dundalk FC of Ireland, for the flying of Palestinian flags by supporters. Fans’ use of pyrotechnics and their propensity for airing political messages both at home and away European matches have accumulated further slap-on-the-wrist penalties from UEFA.

As a repeat offender, the Bhoys could face partial stadium closure when UEFA hear their case on September 22nd. This would disrupt the Green Brigade’s home in Celtic Park’s northeast corner for 90 minutes, but the vociferous group are unlikely to take such a punishment lying down.

Written by Scott McLean

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