If Football’s Not Political, When Is It Supposed To Be?

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Whilst we all read, watch and look at the horrors currently going on in Israel and the Gaza strip – and I doubt I am alone in expressing my sympathies for the innocents on both sides who want to live a life that is not dominated by politics or anger – football has again been dragged into a conflict that it really has nothing to do with.

We are not talking right or wrong, we are talking two wrongs in reality and individuals should absolutely be held to account to the fullest extent of international law for their actions, but the United Kingdom is a multi-cultural melting pot (to our vast advantage) and the wider world of football is absolutely the last place that unsympathetic sabre rattling, or side taking, should take place given the tragic loss of life.

This is why criticism of the Football Association for not lighting up the Wembley Stadium Arch is totally off point. Football has long defended itself as not being political, not showing a side or support, other than for notable occasions to the country such as Remembrance Day, International Women’s Day and then very specific, individual events, like the tribute to the victims of the war in Ukraine, or the terror attacks that took place in Paris in 2015.

The above events are not taking a side, they are historical commemorations to a loss of life.

The FA cannot commemorate the tragic, unnecessary and brutal loss of Israeli lives, without also paying a similar heartfelt tribute to their equally innocent Palestinian counterparts, who undoubtedly share an equal hate for the terrorist organisations that have led to their unneeded deaths.

Chief Executive, Mark Bullingham, was not afraid to say this was one of the toughest decisions he had ever been involved with, as he knew, he would cause hurt to both communities that reside in our country.

“This was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make. The last thing we ever wanted to do in this situation was to add to the hurt. We had a long board meeting on the Wednesday night and heard from experts on what is one of the most complicated geopolitical conflicts on Earth. It’s worth noting that the Australians had upcoming games against both Palestine and Lebanon, so their desire for neutrality was obviously incredibly strong. We all felt then, and we all feel now, that football should stand for peace and humanity and the wish to show compassion for all innocent victims of this terrible conflict. We aren’t asking for everyone to agree with our decision, but to understand how we reached it.”

There can be few times in history a private, for profit organisation, has been under so much pressure and literally been between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

In terms of the loss of innocent life – it was the right call to make, but that is in no way to say that the wider world of football, in all countries, should not be supporting their Israeli or Palestinian (or Israeli and Palestinian supporting) players, and their associated community groups at what is obviously a very tragic, and unsettling period for them all.

Despite the immense, and glorious, tribal nature of the English game that everyone thrives on, in key moments, even deep historical rivals come together for a singular cause for the greater good (and not least it is the right thing to do).

If football isn’t political, let us ensure the beautiful game sends that message of support to all who need to know the world are with them.

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