Celtic’s Latest UEFA Fine Makes No Sense And They Should Be Asked To Explain It.

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Yesterday, a couple of our sites suggested that our club had escaped censure for the Palestinian flags display against Atletico Madrid. As many are probably aware, this isn’t the case. At a hearing on 10 November, the club was sanctioned on three separate offences and one of them was, and I’m quoting UEFA’s finding, for a “Provocative message of an offensive nature.”

This is widely regarded to be in reference to the Palestinian flags. The thing is, I don’t believe that it is. And if it turns out to be, then we have obvious grounds for appealing it. Because if UEFA is fining our club for that, in the context of these events, they are seriously out of touch.

There is a lot of misunderstanding online of exactly what Celtic was concerned about in the run-up to the Atletico Madrid game at home. Celtic were concerned that there might be some form of political banner. They were not overly concerned about the Palestinian flags.

I know that a lot of people don’t believe this to be true, but Celtic’s Green Brigade decision had exactly nothing to do with the Palestinian flag demonstration.

People inside Celtic probably expected Celtic to cop a fine, but they were worried about more specific problems arising that night, which mercifully the club’s pre-match actions prevented. It was a wider protest, attacking Israel perhaps, which concerned them.

But that didn’t happen, because Celtic restricted the Green Brigade’s early access to Parkhead, making it impossible for them to do whatever it was they might have been inspired to do.

Celtic’s decision to ban The Green Brigade was completely predicated on the list of issues which the club has highlighted and put in the public domain.

They are accused of hypocrisy for mentioning “flags” in their statement whilst denying that this is related to the Palestinian one but in fact the club is pretty clear on what flags it’s talking about; the ones promoting the PFLP. If the UEFA fine is in relation to that, then we’re bang to rights and there’s nothing we can do. But that needs to be made clear.

But if UEFA is fining fans for flying Palestinian flags, that’s outrageous and flies in the face of everything they’ve done in recent years.

See, it is difficult to argue that we should be fined for having Palestinian flags in the stands, because there have been Palestinian flags at Celtic Park for years during European games and we’ve only ever suffered a sanction for it once … and there was a very specific context to that which was not present in this case, and it’s that context which is important.

The perception has long been that UEFA are our adversaries. It’s not true. I don’t know why so many people around our club seem almost determined to find new enemies to fight with. If we’re looking for them, they’re certainly not in Nyon.

The perception that UEFA punishes us indiscriminately is nonsense. They have never punished us for our songs although plenty of folk in our media and even at Hampden have tried to push for that. They have never punished us for flags except once prior to now. They have punished us for politicised banners, and for offensive materials but that’s a different thing.

The confusion is partly deliberate.

It’s in some people’s interests to treat UEFA as though they are “the enemy”.

It is convenient for those who defend pyro and other outrageous behaviour to point the finger at the big bad authorities and blame them for their own misdeeds. But this is also partly down to an historic misunderstanding about why we were fined by UEFA in 2016.

The wording under which we were sanctioned in 2016 is as follows; the flags that night, in UEFA’s view, were an example of “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.”

It is pretty much the same as what we were charged with here.

In 2016 we were not fined merely for having Palestinian flags. We were fined for the context in which those flags were on predominant display. A section of our support that night chose to fly dozens of Palestinian flags merely because we were playing against an Israeli team.

That was both a political statement and something of an “offensive or provocative nature.”

As some of us said at the time, there was no need or cause to do that just because of the nationality that team represented, and the club itself, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, are one of the more progressive clubs in the country.

I said then, and believe now, that it was a grossly offensive thing to expose our opponents to. The aftermath, when Celtic fans raised a hell of a money for Palestinian charities, brought something good out of that event, and I was proud of our supporters for that and thought UEFA were crazy to fine us in the first place. I didn’t agree with the fine.

But for too long people have been content to ignore the actual reason it was levied on us, and going strictly by the book UEFA had a case.

But UEFA are on very shaky ground here because it’s very clear that the Palestinian flags which flew at Parkhead that night were political for sure … but I struggle to understand how they can argue that the principal charge, that they were “of an offensive or provocative nature” were present during the Atletico Madrid match. It seems like a double standard.

Celtic should seek clarity on this with immediate effect, and communicate what they are told to the fans. Because this isn’t something that should be left on the record. I find it very difficult to believe that UEFA can justify that charge in its full context.

The Hapoel game was an example of The Green Brigade trying to pick a fight, for no reason at all other than we were playing an Israeli team. It didn’t matter to them that the team in question is one of the more progressive, they wanted to make a point about Israel itself and that crossed UEFA’s red line. That night, Celtic Park was hijacked for a political purpose.

The flags at the Atletico game were not like that at all.

They were symbols of solidarity with suffering people and only rabid lunatics would be provoked or offended by that, and although I hate conflating the two issues, when UEFA expressed its solidarity with the people of Ukraine wasn’t it doing something very similar?

And I’m perfectly fine with them doing that. Ukraine was the victim of aggression, and most of the world is on the same page over that.

Had UEFA treated this the same way, to some it would have seemed like them playing politics when it suits them, but it would at least have had a certain consistency to it when you look again at the wording; “items intended 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.”

The important words there are, I think, “any message that is not fit for a sporting event.”

Since when is standing up for oppressed people not fit for a sporting event? Hell, UEFA has organised sporting events on behalf of causes like that.

There is a clear, a marked, difference between that and putting up banners promoting oppression or stoking hatred. Those things are definitely not fit for sporting events, or any other mass gatherings.

A message of support for a people under bombardment, that’s a different thing entirely and as we’ve seen in football repeatedly, in the way it has stood up for the LGBTQ community, or Black Lives Matter, those causes are embraced by the wider game because they are an effort to right serious social and cultural wrongs … and this would have been an excellent time for UEFA to demonstrate that it knows the difference between that and “offensive” conduct.

And perhaps it was. Perhaps the fine was for the PFLP banners and not for the Palestinian flags, and that would actually bring their policies on this properly into focus. Otherwise, this seems nasty and out of whack with their values. Either way, we deserve to know.

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  • Jim says:

    If the fine was for the two, perhaps three PFLP flags, this suggests to me that UEFA must have been scanning the ground with tremendous scrutiny – perhaps HOPING to find such a flag. I rather suspect it was for our open support of the Palestinian people. Can’t dare upset Israel- that would never do!
    Totally agree the Board should be seeking clarity but there’s no chance they will. Not a backbone in any one of our directors who have been there way too long.

  • Celticfcman says:

    I’m sure it’s for the Brigade banners and they may be linking the Palestine flags to that. Taken together, a lot of those flags were being flown to support the Brigade, or to thumb their nose at the Celtic brass, rather than for the people of Palestine. Either way, it’s all deserved. Flying flags and all the other nonsense that goes on at those matches should be stamped out. Customers are simply paying for a seat to view a soccer match, nothing more. Everything else should be left outside the stadium. Most people want to see their team play in a safe environment. Way too many nuts are there spoiling the fun for decent, peaceful families. Enthusiasm and cheering for the team is normal and proper, anything beyond that should be dealt with firmly.

  • Robbie says:

    I’ve been on the fence about commenting on this piece due to the sensitivity of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as well as just how mean some people can be on the internet. But I feel like topics like this one are important, and clearly on the hearts and minds of many Celtic supporters. James, I hope I don’t sound like a broken record here! While I don’t believe Celtic is an “antisemitic club” as Israel’s football manager stated, I do at this time believe there is an antisemitic element within our fanbase that being Jewish makes me feel unwelcome and uncomfortable within the confines of Parkhead. When you have a portion of the fanbase so passionately in support of the Palestinian people and Palestinian narrative, I think for any Jew it brings up the question as to why. Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall this much ground swell support for Ukraine at the start of their conflict with Russia. I don’t really see any other flags that represent an oppressed people at Celtic Park as much as the solidarity for the Palestinians. It comes across almost like an obsession, especially within the ultra-supporters. Again, the issue with waving any flag that represents a nationalism is that you are then also being labeled with the baggage within that nation. I’m also in solidarity with the Palestinian people, I want them to have their country free from not just Israeli but also all other countries meddling and interference. I also would like to see the Israeli, American, British, and whoever else that’s a hostage in Gaza brought home safely. But the problem with being so passionately pro-Palestinian which is certainly how many supporters of Celtic come across, is that you also have to know that whether it’s the PLO or Hamas or whoever is governing the West Bank and Gaza Strip, that they are also part of the problem. This is very much a nuanced conflict between two competing nationalisms that have governments that don’t want to share the land. I’d love to hear from anyone here that may disagree with me or have a different take, I just ask that you please be respectful and mature. Personally, the political flags that the Green Brigade waved right after the 7th of October attack as well as the pro-PFLO slogans and many Celtic supporters still continuing to support the group gives me plenty of reason to believe we have an antisemitic issue at Celtic Park and within our fanbase. I’d be willing to bet a great deal of money that if I wanted to wave an Israeli flag at Celtic Park, it would not go down well. I may only be wanting to wave it to show solidarity to Jewish suffering just like many only want to wave a Palestinian flag due to Christian and Muslim suffering, and yet waving an Israeli flag comes with the baggage of their far-right Conservative government.

  • Pan says:

    UEFA have just demonstrated that they are in agreement with the GENOCIDE taking place against Palestinians. Of course this is not a surprise. They have already endorsed political statements against Russia, allowed pro-Ukraine frag waving and demonstrations and have shown that UEFA is one of the most disgusting and HYPOCRITICAL organisations in the whole world. They have ignored the fact that every one is entitled to their opinion, not just them, whether it be in the field of sport or anywhere else. UEFA are utterly beneath contempt. This attempt to shut down free speech is interesting as it is exactly what was done by the fascists in Germany, Italy and Spain early last century. It looks very much like racism is on the rise again.

  • Henry says:

    UEFA are complete morons. How can concern for women and children being blown to bits be “political”. We seem to have an elite class that entirely out of touch with ordinary people. That’s because they are unaccountable, not subject to scrutiny and self perpetuating.

    Oh, and was banning Russian teams from UEFA competitions, “political”? One day people will wake up and sweep all these useless bureaucrats away.

  • Martin says:

    James , there’s one other possibility. If we were fined for the Green Brigade “reprise” of the Mussolini flag against Lazio – provocative political nature – could it be the fine was for the Flag of the International Brigades given the perceived political leanings of Atleti fans ?
    Just a thought, personally I think it was for the PFLP ones – stupid move imo
    Either way , fcuk EUFA as another banner once said !

  • SSMPM says:

    PFLP probably. It was there so it be can’t discounted so therefore not disregarded as the reason. It should be explored for clarity and then it’s clear that the Palestinian flag can be flown moving forward. I assume the tricolour’s okay.
    I assume the 3 grand was for pyros though it did state it was for fireworks. Be so much easier if EUFA were clear and we don’t have to ask for clarity but hey ho.

  • Ada says:

    Unless I am mistaken, James, Hapoel Be’er Sheva is progressive in the way of Hapoel Tel Aviv, as in Labour Zionism, which predicates itself upon the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in establishment of a Jewish national state; whatever more leftist inclinations they bear are irrelevant, sharing the same basic tenet as the likes of Beitar Jerusalem. To say Hapoel Be’er Sheva were demonstrated against solely for being Israeli is disingenuous; Israel is an apartheid state on stolen land, which Hapoel Be’er Sheva explicitly accord and assent to.

  • Bill says:

    The problem is we don’t all agree on non football issues.I’m a proud Conservative Zionist supporter of Celtic who’s supported the team longer that most of our fans have lived. Does that make me less of a Celtic supporter ? Or are we not quite a club open to all? As soon as we introduce politics into football the question is, is it my politics or yours ? Best to leave it all at the front door and unite in the one thing, maybe the only thing, we all have in common, supporting the team on the park.

  • john clarke says:

    Did UEFA have any representatives at Parkhead?…or did they they rely on photojournalist pictures and stories in the papers. They would not have seen much by watching the Television Broadcast. Joe McHugh (Video Celts) said in reply to a comment a couple of days before the game, that the TV broadcaster was determined to spend as little time as possible transmitting scenes of the Palestinian Flags flying. I believe the TV Director and crew did a good job and deserve thanks. The long shots of the flags would not mean anything to the TV viewers and any UEFA officials. Celtic FC Club did their best to deter the incorrigibles from flying Palestinian flags. The recalcitrant group knew there would be severe consequences. Thanks Celtic FC. Did UEFA speak to Celtic before their deliberations?. They should have. UEFA should think again and waive the penalty.

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