For those surprised to see politics "invade" sports news recently, it's worth noting that politics never really left the stadiums. Sports has always been a place where politics, quite literally, played out, and when federations try to divorce one from the other, it is usually a blatant and shameless case of double standards. 

The Arab-Israeli conflict, for one, has been an enduring theme of the Olympics, even for those who haven't been watching the games closely.

It was action-packed from start to finish. Israel's customs authorities held Palestine's Olympics team 's gear ahead of the event, making the athletes' arrival at the games nearly impossible. But they did it anyway, and it was a testament to the kind of sportsmanship we have come to memorialize in film and literature.

Then, the Lebanese Olympic team triggered an outpouring of praise and scathing critique for refusing to share a bus with Israel's delegation . A Saudi judoka skipped her first round match in order to avoid facing off with an Israeli in the second round--she cited an injuring, but people are having a hard time believing that . Finally, Egypt's judoka Islam El Shehaby snubbed a hand shake with an Israeli opponent.

Egypt judo snub israel

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) did not take tis lightly. They prevented him from attending the closing ceremony.

The IOC's decision to send El Shehaby home--in spite of the fact that the International Judo Federation doesn't mandate that players shake hands after the match--sheds light on the wider problem of arbitrary penalties slapped on athletes and sports clubs when it comes to politics.

The latest victim Scottish football club, Celtic. Last week, their ultra-loyal fan club The Green Brigade waved Palestinian flags en masse during their team's Champions League qualifier 5-2 win against Israeli side Hapoel Be'r Sheva on Wednesday night. In so doing, they flouted UEFA ban on the flag for being a "political symbol" owing to the fact that “the conflict with Israeli forces in the region is still ongoing."

UEFA does not impose a similar ban on waving the Israeli flag. That country's national team and clubs have been participating in European competitions ever since the country was expelled from the Asian federation in 1974 after Arab states refused to play them at the Asian games.

Similarly, the world football's governing body also turned a blind eye to Ghanaian footballer John Paintsil when waved the Israeli flag to celebrate his national team scoring its second goal against Czech Republic during the 2006 World Cup. The flag was nothing if not political during this demonstration.


While Ghana's football federation apologized, FIFA did not charge the player or his national federation for waving the flag of a nation that is embroiled in a region-wide war and was not even one of the 32 participants in the competition.

Yet, three years later, Malian footballer Frederic Kanoute was fined for revealing a black t-shirt with a pro-Palestine message during Israeli's Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, which killed around 1,400 people, half of whom were civilians.


Also in 2009, FIFA warned Egyptian footballer Mohammed Abu Treika about his "unacceptable conduct" after he expressed his solidarity with Gaza during the FIFA Confederations Cup. (23)

But the latest fine on Celtic, whose supporter base prides itself with its left-leaning principles, is the 11th fine the Scottish club receives since 2007 for defying UEFA's rule book that prohibits politics entering stadiums, taking the total payment it has made to European football's governing body to $250,000.

In 2014, the club's fans flew the Palestinian flag during a game against Icelandic side KR Reykjavik. This was during the Israeli Army's assault on Gaza with Operation "Protective Edge" which killed more than 2,200 Palestinians. In the same year, supporters of Irish football club Dundalk raised the Palestinian flag while their team played against Hajduk Split.

There's no hiding from the fact that political tensions run high in sports competitions all over the world - just that the football world is too sensitive to criticizing Israel.

*The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of StepFeed