British Soccer Chief Faces Backlash After Saying 'Star of David, Swastika' Divisive Symbols

English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn highlighted the Star of David, along with the swastika and the hammer and sickle, as symbols he feels breach soccer laws banning religious and political imagery

CEO Martin Glenn of the Football Association in Zurich, Switzerland March 3, 2018.
CEO Martin Glenn of the Football Association in Zurich, Switzerland March 3, 2018.Credit: \ ARND WIEGMANN/ REUTERS

English Football Association chief executive Martin Glenn highlighted the Star of David among the symbols he believes breach soccer laws banning religious and political imagery, a reference that has drawn criticism from the country’s Jewish community.

Glenn, a member of the International Football Association, mentioned the Star of David while seeking to explain to reporters why the other slogans, statements or images should still be banned from being displayed on any equipment in the game.

Glenn released a statement Monday apologizing for his comments. "I would like to apologise for any offence caused by the examples I gave when referring to political and religious symbols in football, specifically in reference to the Star of David, which is a hugely important symbol to Jewish people all over the world. I will be speaking with the Jewish Leadership Council and to Kick It Out to personally apologise," read the statement.

Glenn succeeded last year in persuading soccer lawmaking body IFAB to change the statutes to ensure poppies commemorating Britain’s war dead were allowed on England jerseys and no longer flouted regulations banning political, religious or personal symbols.

“We have re-written Law 4 of the game so that things like a poppy are OK,” Glenn said. “But things that are going to be highly divisive, and that could be strong religious symbols, it could be the Star of David, it could be the hammer and sickle, it could be a swastika, anything like (Zimbabwe’s former president) Robert Mugabe on your shirt, these are the things we don’t want.”

The Jewish Leadership Council, which is led by a former FA executive, said Glenn’s comment was “offensive and inappropriate” and plans to complain to the sport’s national governing body. The Star of David, a symbol of Judaism, features on the Israeli flag which appears on national team kits and is displayed in stadiums.

Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson, a former FA director of corporate affairs, said the “FA’s examples are ill judged an in poor taste.”

“The Star of David is a Jewish religious symbol of immense importance to Jews worldwide,” Johnson said in a statement. “To put it in the same bracket as the swastika and Robert Mugabe is offensive and inappropriate.

“We will raise formally with the FA the Jewish community’s deep disappointment with this statement.”

Yaakov Hagoel, the Vice Chairman of the World Zionist Organization dubbed the comment 'cynical' and 'inconsiderate', one that makes a mockery of history and is unacceptable.

"I expect a man of Glenn's stature to distinguish between the eternal symbol of the people Israel and a symbol that stands for evil amd hatred in the world," Hagoel said in his reponse, adding that he "invites Glenn to visit the death camps or Yad Vashem and note the differences up close."

The focus on the FA’s policy on symbols comes after Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola was charged for wearing yellow ribbon in support of Catalan politicians who were jailed or went into exile after a secession bid in October. The region held an independence referendum that was banned by Madrid authorities.

“To be honest, and to be very clear, Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon is a political symbol, it’s a symbol of Catalan independence, and I can tell you there are many more Spaniards, non-Catalans, who are (expletive) off by it,” Glenn told reporters after an IFAB meeting.

“All we are doing is even-handedly applying the laws of the game. Poppies are not political symbols. That yellow ribbon is. Where do you draw the line?”

Glenn referenced the right-wing, euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party and the Islamic State group.

“Should we have someone with a UKIP badge, someone with an ISIS badge? That’s why you have to be pretty tough that local, regional, national party organizations cannot use football shirts to represent them,” Glenn said.

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