UEFA on fan political protests

UEFA on fan political protests

Fans could win more freedom to make political protests at soccer stadiums in a UEFA review of its disciplinary rules.

European soccer’s governing body wants existing rules which prohibit non-soccer statements to “evolve to reflect the nature of the society in which we live.”

UEFA’s statement Monday follows Barcelona dropping a Court of Arbitration for Sport appeal against fines imposed for fans supporting Catalonian independence.

It was published as FIFA drew criticism in Britain for upholding its rules prohibiting political, religious and personal statements in all 211 member federations. It fined the four British soccer bodies for displays at World Cup qualifying matches last month that remembered their nations’ war dead.

UEFA said it recognized that rules across international soccer which bar political statements are not “set in stone.”

“(T)hey can, and should, evolve to reflect the nature of the society in which we live, where freedom of expression is generally a value to be supported and cherished,” UEFA said, adding that sanctions should not be imposed when “no reasonable person could object to, or be offended by, a particular message conveyed.”

Barcelona has been repeatedly fined by UEFA for fans’ flags and chants in support of the Catalonia region seceding from Spain, including incidents at the 2015 Champions League final.

The Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona has historically been a forum for political views, including against the Madrid-based regime of General Francisco Franco from the 1930s to the 1970s.

“UEFA appreciates that FC Barcelona has recognized that, when it comes to the application of the current UEFA’s Disciplinary Regulations, there is presently little scope for the disciplinary bodies to depart from the established rules,” the European body said.

Still, UEFA committed to including clubs and its national member federations in a working group to review disciplinary rules.

UEFA has declined to discipline clubs this season after fans displayed banners criticizing the Champions League as too commercial and elitist.

Fans of Bayern Munich and Copenhagen have both held up detailed English-language banners in recent weeks outlining their opposition to UEFA agreeing changes to the competition that favor wealthy and storied clubs.