On Wednesday night, Celtic will play an Israeli team, some people will fly the flag of Palestine and Celtic will almost certainly get fined. The consequences and subsequent impact are down to conjecture and perspective.
Palestine is recognised by 139 countries, has greater “state” recognition by UN & EU than Scotland does, is a member of FIFA and the IOC. Despite this, it is likely that UEFA will see the waving of the Palestinian Flag as a political act and to be fair, those waving it would no doubt accept that it is. UEFA rules state;
“The use 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 or provocative nature will not be tolerated.”
Last time (2013) we were fined and we had a Palestinian player in the squad for the game. Ourselves, Dundalk & St Johnstone were all fined because UEFA claimed waving a Palestinian flag was “political” due to the fact that there was ongoing trouble.
In my view the Politics in football grounds debate would last 5 minutes in a court. Barca’s away strip would be banned. International competition would be banned. Flying a Scotland flag during referendum campaign could be perceived as political. For goodness sake we are only playing an Israeli team (a team from the Middle East) for political reasons! Would having a Ukranian flag against a Russian team (or vice versa) illicit an offence? Would having a Turkish flag on show when playing a Greek Cypriot team be an offence? Of course it’s all nonsense.
Despite the nonsense of the UEFA position many ask will waving a flag at CP achieve anything bar a cost to the club? They have suggested that it would be better to spend the time and money going to the Israeli consulate and protesting outside their door. Others have commented that the political issues don’t really interest them and wonder why people think it’s okay to risk Celtic having a stand closed for persistent offending does. If a stand IS closed, will those waving the flag step forward and volunteer their ticket to ensure non-flag wavers see the game?
And that is the crux of this issue for many, including the club. UEFA rules are the UEFA rules. The rules may be a nonsense but if you want to play in their competitions you have to abide by their rules. The big fear the club have is that the accumulation of small events is getting very close to the point (like Bayern in 2014) when a section of the ground will be closed for a game under the totting up system.
In addition to illustrating the nonsense of UEFA rules, this flag issue also demonstrates the problem with strict liability. I have read on twitter “stuff the Champions League” and “some things are more important – it’s only money”. Such people therefore see the demonstration as worth the punishment – The entire population of Perth isn’t punished by 100 punters walking down the street creating trouble so why would the same number of people be penalised if 100 citizens exercise their democratic right to wave the Palestinian flag?
In the sterilised world of modern football, there are certain clubs praised for the passion and zeal of their fans and the atmosphere in their stadia. Celtic and the amphitheater of Celtic Park are one such club, but like Barca, Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao among others it is the strong political ethos established in the formation of the club that makes it different. Barca remained a huge club during the Franco era partly because within the crowds of Camp Nou Catalan culture could be retained and the Catalan language could be used. Crowds behind the Iron Curtain were large at football because there you could shout anti-government slogans and get away with it. In short, in many places and at many clubs, football and politics are intertwined.
Celtic are between rock and a hard place. There is not a Celtic game goes by without Palestinian flags being on display. They are neither illicit nor illegal in draconian Scottish football. They are an everyday part of Celtic games. Additionally Celtic have (and have always had) a sizeable number of politicised fans – it’s in the nature of the club’s formation.
But UEFA rules are UEFA rules and in the world of football there is NOTHING a club from a wee nation can do about them.
If Celtic make a big deal of saying NO! a chunk of our support will say “who are you to tell us…?” and that will arrive on Wednesday determined to wave Palestinian flags. Say nothing and flags will be flown and the club could face greater censure for not taking enough steps to prevent the political demonstration.
No matter what it seems certain the club will be fined. Whether this then leads to worse as a consequence of persistent offending we will only know once it’s too late.