• Devangi Sharma

Germany VS Hungary | UEFA's war on the rainbow

"For UEFA, the rainbow is not a political symbol, but a sign of our commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society”, but not all is sunshine and rainbows as the EURO 2020 seem to be dowsed in conflict due to controversial decisions regarding LGBT+ representation during the sporting event, with many accusing the governing body of being homophobic. What exactly went down?


Lights, armbands and disciplinary actions.

Germany approached the UEFA with a plea to light up the Allianz Arena in Munich with pride colors on the eve of their match against Hungary, however this request was declined by the organization on accounts of it being a ‘political statement.



"UEFA, through its statutes, is a politically and religiously neutral organization. Given the political context of this specific request — a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament — UEFA must decline this request," it said in a statement.

Instead, UEFA proposed alternative dates in the coming weeks in which the stadium could display the colors — just not during the match. But the governing body's decision sparked a backlash. In response, clubs in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Wolfsburg and Augsburg said they would illuminate their stadiums during Wednesday's match.


This event was just one of the many rows that the association has had to face this season. Earlier Germany captain Manuel Neuer was slapped with investigation for wearing a rainbow armband in support of LGBT rights. Neuer was facing a fine if his armband was deemed to be in breach of UEFA’s rules on political symbols. However, the charges were subsequently dropped upon finding no inconsistencies.

UEFA is currently investigating “potential discriminatory incidents” as photographs emerged on social media that demonstrated Hungarian fans raising banners voicing their opposition against LGBTQ+ people inside the Puskas Arena.


Politics and UEFA

UEFA Statutes decree it to be ‘neutral, politically and religiously’ and related regulations will apply to any political statements made by players in any such context.


UEFA Disciplinary Regulations go into further detail as to what constitutes a breach of the UEFA “principles of ethical conduct, loyalty, integrity and sportsmanship”, to which players must adhere. Specific breaches include “conduct [which] is insulting or otherwise violates the basic rules of decent conduct” 18 and where a person “uses sporting events for manifestations of a non-sporting nature”, affording UEFA a right of direct action against players who make political statements during the course of a game or tournament.


Pride goodwill or political move?

The reason LGBT+ activism and Pride is gaining traction during Euro 2020 is not simply out of need of raising awareness, it is, sadly, as always, a hidden political attack on Hungary’s recent ‘Anti-Gay Laws’.


The law bans school talks on LGBT issues to a separate, widely backed by a bill that strictly penalizes paedophilia, making it much harder for opponents to vote against it. Under the amendments submitted to the bill last week, under-18s cannot be shown any content that encourages gender change or homosexuality. This also applies to advertisements. The law sets up a list of organizations allowed to provide education about sex in schools.


Germany and 13 other EU states have condemned the new law, prompting Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to cancel a visit to Wednesday's football match, according to German media.


"I think this law is wrong, and it's incompatible with my idea of politics. If you allow homosexual, same-sex partnerships but restrict information about them elsewhere, that also has to do with freedom of education. For me, this is something I reject politically. -German Chancellor Angela Merkel

In response Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto slammed Munich's lighting proposal.


"In Hungary, we have passed a law to protect Hungarian children, and now in Western Europe they are griping about it. They want to express this by including politics in a sporting event, which has nothing to do with the passing of national laws.''


Public Outrage

Many Political leaders from Western Europe and the EU have expressed their distaste for the ban, accusing it off withholding support towards tolerance and diversity.


"Always happy to be lauded for actions against homophobia and racism, but not allowing a rainbow stadium as a symbol of tolerance and diversity at Euro 2020. What a poor showing, UEFA!'' - Berlin Deputy Mayor Ramona Pop accused UEFA of hypocrisy.

The EU's deputy chief spokeswoman also expressed criticism, but the EU "were not in a position" to ask a sporting organisation to display any particular colours, insisting that it "is a discussion between UEFA and the city of Munich." French Deputy Minister for European Affairs Clément Beaune told reporters that France "regretted" UEFA's decision, adding their considerations of lighting up its stadiums with rainbow colours.”


"What does the rainbow stand for?" German government spokesman Steffen Seibert asked on Monday. "It stands for how we want to live: With respect for each other, without the discrimination that has long excluded minorities. And surely the vast majority of people can relate to that.''


Dissent was not only limited to the political entities with German LGBT+ groups and fans of the sport taking the matter of representation into their own hands.

  • A spectator wearing a German shirt ran onto the pitch with a rainbow flag while the Hungarian anthem was played before the game.

  • Other fans also waved multi-coloured flags during the group stage match

  • Outside the Munich stadium, a campaign to get as many of the 11,000 supporters as possible to wear stickers or carry flags was co-ordinated by Christopher Street Day, which organises annual LGBT parades in July across Germany.


UEFA’s response

In a statement European football's governing body said it "is proud to wear the colours of the rainbow", a symbol for the LGBTQ community, but defended its decision by saying the city of Munich's request to illuminate the stadium was "political". This was accompanied with a revamped logo for the UEFA all dressed in pride colors. UEFA has approved rainbow themes in pitch-side advertising boards at Euro 2020, including Volkswagen, Heineken, Bookings.com and JustEat, which was then banned at two quarter finals in Baku and St Petersburg.


A UEFA statement said: “Every partner can decide on their respective messages, artwork and activation activities and their decisions to transmit a message of tolerance and inclusion is fully supported by UEFA. “We firmly believe in equal rights for all, and this includes supporting the LGBTQI+ community within the framework of our Equal Game campaign.


Conclusion

The situation is just another stepping stone which highlights the promise of representation and politicization of the LGBT+ community to gain higher ground. Despite whatever its intentions may be, UEFA’s stringent policies on neutrality have placed the community once again in political limelight making it a ‘thing to be debated upon’.


Sources: Euronews, UEFA, CNN World, BBC, The Athletic.


~ Devangi Sharma