UEFA's rules not clear enough

icon japanball3 September ~ Flags of all sorts are a common sight inside football grounds, but in the eyes of UEFA some are more acceptable than others. St Johnstone this week became the latest club to be hit by a hefty fine after a Palestinian flag appeared in their home crowd during a Europa League qualifier against Spartak Trnava on July 31. This prompted a €18,000 (£14,350) penalty for the Scottish Cup winners, who were charged with breaking UEFA's Disciplinary Regulations on Order and Security.

The regulation in question states that "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".

This, of course, opens up a whole hornet's nest of what does and does not fit into the above criteria. One could ask whether an Irish flag flown by Celtic fans could be shoehorned into the description, or a plain old Scotland flag, given that we're weeks away from an independence referendum. In fact, isn't any national flag essentially a political and ideological symbol?

After St Johnstone confirmed the fine, fan forums and Twitter accounts were awash with rumours that UEFA possesses its own list, outlining which flags do and don't merit punishment. But a search through UEFA's borderline-impenetrable website uncovers no such list. It also provides no evidence to back up suggestions that Palestine's flag is a special case because the Palestinians are currently involved in an active conflict (the same thing could, of course, be said of a great many nations).

While all will have their own views on the ongoing situation in Gaza, the fact is that Palestine are legitimate members of FIFA, who have players based all over the world and compete as a nation in World Cup qualifiers. Is their flag, waved on its own without the inclusion of any message, any more offensive than that of any other country? If so, one might ask what the implications would be if St Johnstone were to sign a Palestinian player and the club's fans wished to show their support for him by displaying his country's flag.

However unclear their criteria, UEFA certainly deem the issue to be important. So important, in fact, that it turns out waving a solitary Palestine flag carries a heavier fine than hurling a banana at Dani Alves, for which Villarreal were fined only €12,000 in April. Gary Panton

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