Euro 2021: can sport really be politically “neutral”?

By refusing to display the Munich stadium with the rainbow flag on Tuesday 23 June, on the occasion of the Euro meeting between Germany and Hungary, UEFA has stepped up support for the cause. ‘she wanted to keep away from her competition. The Munich municipality wanted with this symbol to denounce the adoption in Hungary of a discriminatory law, sanctioning the fact of “Show homosexuality” to minors. The message, aimed specifically at one country, was brushed aside by self-proclaimed UEFA “Politically and religiously neutral organization”.

→ EXPLANATION. Hungarian gender law turns to European litigation

The head of German diplomacy, Heiko Maas, lamented the “Bad signal” sent by the association. “UEFA got its foot in the carpet a bit, because its refusal decision is also a political decision”, regretted Clément Beaune, French Secretary of State for European Affairs. Under fire from critics, the football organization pays the limits of an illusory claim to “Neutrality”, in an eminently political field.

Suplicate quarrels to “open doors”

“Apolitism is a founding pillar of international sports organizations and associations, it is in their DNA, poses Carole Gomez, research director at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). Overcoming religious, partisan and political quarrels has allowed them to deploy globally and open doomed doors if they take a stand. “

But if the sports authorities have braced themselves for more than a century on the “Neutrality”, States, practitioners and sponsors use competitions as an unparalleled echoing megaphone. Making UEFA, Fifa and other IOCs the last players neglecting – officially – the political dimension of sport. “To continue to deny it is naive at best, guilty at worst, says researcher Carole Gomez. Organizations find themselves on a ridge line where the slightest claim from a state or an athlete imposes an impossible choice on them. And sometimes force them, under the pretext of apoliticalism, to denounce what they claim elsewhere. “

The Munich standard offers just one umpteenth example of this “Big gap”. Faced with the controversy opened by its decision, UEFA repeats at will its “Commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society”. And adorns, to prove it, her logo with the rainbow that she challenged on the stadium, and still refuses to consider as a “Political symbol”.

Political issues as old as sport

“These organizations have never learned the lessons of history, blows the historian Patrick Clastres, professor at the University of Lausanne, recalling the peak reached at the Olympic Games of 1936, instrumentalized by Hitler. Admittedly, their creation could only be done in an interstitial space, above the contingencies. But continuing to claim neutrality generates a conceptual impasse: at the slightest political recovery, these bodies find themselves naked. “

The political stakes are as old as sport, from hosting a big event to promote a regime to the demands brandished on a lawn filmed in mondiovision. But the growing audiences and the starification of the most famous competitors multiply the resonance offered by the major disciplines.

→ ANALYSIS. Euro 2020: Germany-Hungary, more than just a football match

Before the defense of LGBT rights, the Euro football had already caused politically to talk by the knee placed on the ground by certain teams before their match, to denounce discrimination. Or the controversy surrounding the Ukrainian jersey. “We are witnessing an explosion of politicizations in this tournament, confirms Carole Gomez. No doubt because it is the first international competition organized after the health crisis: the presence of supporters, media and viewers crystallizes the issues, interests and tensions. The new format of this Euro can also play a role: its holding in eleven countries multiplies the specificities of the hosts and offers a cocktail that can be explosive. “


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