OLIVER HOLT: Why can’t the FA show some simple courage? Their refusal to light the Wembley arch for Israel is shameful… fear of causing offence fits pattern of surrender at first sign of difficulty
- The FA have previously lit the Wembley arch to show support and solidarity
- Refusing to do the same for Israel feels viscerally wrong and deeply regrettable
- Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’
The lighting of the Wembley arch in the colours of a bereaved nation has been used recently by the Football Association as a gesture of support for, and solidarity with, the victims of attacks in France, Belgium, Turkey and Ukraine.
Its intention has always been well-meaning, to provide a small measure of succour and comfort for those who were suffering, although increasingly it seems as if it was more about trying to make us feel good about ourselves.
In November 2015, soon after the terrorist attacks in Paris that killed 130 people at a number of venues, launched in retaliation for French air strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq, the crowd at Wembley stood to sing the Marseillaise before a game against France.
The arch was lit up in red, white and blue that night. It was one of the most moving occasions the stadium has ever witnessed. It felt as if football was using the power of its appeal to play a small part in reasserting the beauty of shared humanity in the face of grotesque barbarism.
So it feels viscerally wrong and deeply regrettable that, after the massacre of more than 1,000 Israeli men, women, children and infants in their cots by Hamas terrorists on Saturday, the FA are refusing to illuminate Wembley’s arch in blue and white ahead of England’s game against Australia on Friday night.
The FA lit the Wembley arch in the colours of France in 2015 after terrorist attacks in Paris
Football showed shared humanity in the face of grotesque barbarism on that occasion
The FA have made the mistake of allowing the complexity of the conflict to blind them to making a simple gesture of humanity in the aftermath of the massacre last week
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The FA are not alone in their pusillanimity. The BBC’s inability to bring themselves to refer to Hamas gunmen rampaging through civilian Israeli communities — slaughtering young and old alike — as terrorists, does a disservice to ordinary Palestinians, many of whom loathe Hamas, and to the BBC’s journalistic standards.
No one is expecting the FA to provide a solution to the Palestinian question, to take a side, or to ignore the horrors Palestinians are suffering in Gaza.
No one is expecting them to be a mediator in a conflict that spans centuries of hate, distrust and violence between Jews and Arabs in the Middle East.
‘Unfortunately,’ American journalist Isaac Saul wrote this week, ‘most people in the West only pay attention to this story when Hamas or a Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank commits an act of violence.
‘Palestinian citizens die regularly at the hands of the Israeli military and their plight goes largely unnoticed until they respond with violence of their own.
‘Israel had already killed an estimated 250 Palestinians, including 47 children, this year alone and that is just in the West Bank.’
The mistake the FA have made is that they have allowed the complexity of a tangled conflict, a tragic regional cycle of blood for blood, to blind them to the fact that all the situation required was a simple gesture of shared humanity with Israeli citizens in the aftermath of a massacre.
Is it really so difficult to acknowledge that what happened at the Re’im music festival and Kibbutz Be’eri will be mentioned for generations to come as landmarks in human inhumanity, an atrocity to inhabit nightmares alongside dark places on this earth like Babi Yar, Khatyn, Deir Yassin, Sharpeville, My Lai and Srebrenica?
The FA abandoned standing up for LGBTQ rights when players risked a booking at Qatar 2022
England’s players have been applauded for taking the knee as a protest against racism
Is it really so difficult to commemorate that in a small way by lighting up an arch in north London?
It isn’t, but the FA’s nervousness about being all things to everyone, their terror of causing offence, fits a recent pattern of surrender at the first sign of difficulty.
It was at the World Cup in Qatar last November when it became evident that, after months of standing up for the principle of LGBTQ rights, FIFA’s threat of showing a yellow card to any captain who wore a rainbow armband was enough to persuade the FA to abandon their stand for equality and tolerance.
When it really mattered, a booking was too high a price to pay for a principle. For all the campaigns, slogans, T-shirts, advertising hoardings and armbands, that was the reality. When the going got tough, football ducked for cover.
The FA, England manager Gareth Southgate and his players deserve much credit for taking the knee before matches as a protest against racism.
Many of us applauded them for that and continue to do so.
But if you are going to mix politics and sport, if you are going to stand up for an opinion outside the game, it is hard to step back and plead the Eddie Howe defence, that world affairs are all beyond the ken of a simple football man.
The reality is that in the past few days, the colours of Israel have been displayed on the Eiffel Tower in France, the Brandenburg Gate in Germany, the Empire State Building in the United States and Sydney Opera House in Australia. But Wembley can’t manage it.
The Brandenburg Gate in Germany is among the landmarks to have been lit up in recent days
What does that say about our football authorities? Is it really beyond our game to offer a show of support to a country visited by a national trauma?
Is it really beyond our game to offer a precious symbol of support to a Jewish community in this country that has been deeply affected by what happened in Israel and which already feels so isolated and under threat that its synagogues and schools here are protected by guards.
What is the difference between showing support for France, Belgium, Ukraine and Turkey and showing support for Israel? History tells us that societies are adept at turning the other way when the Jewish population comes under attack.
There is always an excuse for a pogrom if you search for it hard enough and now our generation is busy finding its own.
IT’S ALL KICKING OFF!
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