Football matches are no place for politics

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/21 21:23:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

China's Under-20 football team attended its first game in Germany over the weekend. However, the game was delayed after a group of spectators displayed Tibetan flags. In protest, the Chinese players refused to continue and only agreed to re-commence after the spectators took down the flags.

Ronny Zimmermann, vice-president of the German Football Association, which has organized the matches, told the media after the match that they "want to be good hosts" and thus they "are not happy with this incident." He condemned "the use of football as a deliberate provocation against our guests." However, he also called on the Chinese side to "handle it calmly and stand above such actions" and said that "there is the right to freedom of expression here and certain rules apply."

Within Germany, there are quite a number of pro-Tibet independence groups who use such occasions to make a political presence. FIFA, the international governing body of football, does have a rule in place banning political slogans and political protests at football fields. The hanging of Tibetan flags by pro-Tibet independence groups at a match where the Chinese team participated violates this rule and goes against the very spirit of the sport.

FIFA has been visionary in the banning of politics among spectators at football stadiums. If it were to allow such incidents to happen, the stadium grandstands would most certainly have already become a stage for political demonstrations. While the popularity of football has increased across the world in recent decades, various political disputes also occurred, and many people have sought to find a place to voice their opinions and grab media attention. The grandstand of football matches makes a perfect venue for this.

FIFA's strict rules mean that football fans can enjoy matches without being disturbed by political slogans and that the grandstand would not host confrontations between different political camps.

Although this time it was only a few advocates of pro-Tibet independence that waved Tibetan flags, if not dealt with properly at this stage, there would no doubt be more spectators holding flags and making political stances in the stands of Germany's football fields in the future. The FIFA rules that keep football away from politics would be breached by such political protesters in the name of "freedom of speech." Is this what Germans really want?

It is possible that some German citizens would like to show more tolerance toward Tibetan flags. Thinking about a similar issue closer to home, if there was sight of slogans or flags of Catalan independence, local police officers would have rushed to establish order. Or, if this would be allowed, football fields in Barcelona may take on the opposite scene: matches would likely become the live broadcast of a "Catalan independence" carnival.

We hold that the Chinese team did the right thing in refusing to continue to play until the flags were removed. The German side, although reluctantly, ultimately prevented the protesters from holding Tibetan flags. In the interest of fairness and justice, the Chinese people should take the initiative to negotiate and protect our own rights and interests.

The football field typifies a place for the gathering of different groups and supporters, making maintaining order and peace in grandstands inherently difficult to control. Many Germans have misguided perceptions over "Tibet independence," and because of this it is even more probable that pro-Tibet independence advocates would choose to create disturbances in stadiums. Whenever this happens, Chinese participants should solemnly protest, urging the relevant authorities in Germany and other European countries to impose more pressure against anti-China forces. 

As for the German side, they failed to appropriately manage this incident and should take accountability for this. Furthermore, they did not uphold their responsibilities as a host. They disregarded FIFA rules and the fact that the spirit behind the game is football, not politics. It is hoped that in the future grandstands in Germany will be better managed in this respect.

The article is an editorial of the Chinese edition of the Global Times Tuesday. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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