Belfast Telegraph

Comment: Uefa's rules must always be obeyed... unless you're Uefa

By John Laverty

Rules is rules, as they keep saying in football. And, although you could rightly despair at the grammar, you can't really argue with the sentiments.

Uefa has a rule that effectively forbids memorials like the one at Mourneview Park being displayed at games under its jurisdiction.

It's deemed political, you see. And an august body like the Union of European Football Associations simply couldn't condone anything that might bring politics into the beautiful game.

The rules state that clubs must not allow "any message that is not fit for a sports event, particularly messages that are of a political, ideological, religious, offensive or provocative nature" to be displayed within a ground.

That's why Celtic were fined over £20,000 after some fans displayed 'paramilitary-style' banners during the recent match with Linfield in Glasgow.

All very laudable, except for one little caveat... although Uefa bills itself as the champion of politics-free sport, it is actually one of the greatest transgressors of its own rules and values.

For instance, when one of the most prominent political figures in history, Nelson Mandela, died four years ago, European football's governing body decreed that a huge banner in his honour would be unfurled at every Champions League match the following week.

But when Barcelona fans displayed the Estelada - a version of the Catalan flag - during Champions League games last year, the club was fined €150,000.

Right and proper, you might say, because Catalonia is not officially recognised as a sovereign country - but then neither are the four nations of the United Kingdom ... although they are acknowledged by UEFA as separate entities.

And why can Spain not play Gibraltar if the pair are drawn together in a qualifying campaign?

Well, because Uefa says they can't due to ... well, continuing political tensions over the territory's sovereignty.

In late 2013 Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino - yes, the bloke who is now Fifa president - was quoted as saying: "Gibraltar is a full member and will participate in the draw (for Euro 2016) but it will not play against Spain. That was one of the criteria that was decided."

Earlier that year, Gibraltar had been accepted as a full member of Uefa, much to the chagrin of the Spanish.

Now, a cynic might suggest that the possibility of Spain pulling out of a competition - and thus threatening major sponsorship and TV revenues - was more than Uefa could stomach.

Whatever. It played the political card to its own ends.

One other thing: Uefa states that teams from one country cannot compete in another country's footballing league.

Try telling that to Cardiff City, Swansea, Wrexham - and of course Derry City.

Some local politicians have expressed outrage at Uefa's ruling on Mourneview Park and that's understandable. They must realise, however, that the mandarins of Nyon won't change their stance ... unless of course it suits them.

Rules is rules, and hypocrisy is hypocrisy.

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