British soccer chief under fire for lumping together Star of David, swastika
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British soccer chief under fire for lumping together Star of David, swastika

Explaining that ‘highly divisive’ symbols are not permitted in soccer, Martin Glenn lists Nazi flag, images of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe and Jewish star

Martin Glenn, chief executive of the English Football Association, speaks during the press conference of the 132nd IFAB Annual General Meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)
Martin Glenn, chief executive of the English Football Association, speaks during the press conference of the 132nd IFAB Annual General Meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (Ennio Leanza/Keystone via AP)

LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) — The chief executive of England’s Football Association, Martin Glenn, faced criticism from a leading member of Britain’s Jewish community after saying the Star of David was “something we don’t want” in soccer along with the swastika.

Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council and himself a former director of corporate affairs at the FA, said Glenn’s comments were “offensive and inappropriate.”

Glenn’s remarks came as he tried to justify the FA’s decision to charge Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of jailed Catalan independence leaders.

Following events last year surrounding Catalonia’s bid to break away from Spain, which included a referendum and a proclamation of independence, both deemed illegal, the authorities jailed several leaders of the movement.

Guardiola has until 6 p.m. UK time Monday to respond to the charge he has breached FA regulations that ban the wearing of political symbols.

The FA have faced accusations of hypocrisy given their prolonged campaign to let world football chiefs allow players to display a poppy on their shirt to mark Armistice Day.

Scotland’s Grant Hanley, left, and England’s Eric Dier wear black armbands with a poppy to mark Armistice Day during the World Cup group F qualifying soccer match between England and Scotland at the Wembley stadium in London. November 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

But Glenn, speaking following a meeting of the IFAB, football’s global law-making body, in Zurich rejected the comparison.

‘Ill-judged’

“We have rewritten Law 4 of the game so that things like a poppy are OK but things that are going to be highly divisive are not,” Glenn was quoted as saying in several British national newspapers.

“That could be strong religious symbols, it could be the Star of David, it could the hammer and sickle, it could be a swastika, anything like (former Zimbabwe President) Robert Mugabe on your shirt — these are the things we don’t want.

“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 pissed off by it.

Manchester City’s manager Pep Guardiola, right, wears a yellow ribbon at Wembley stadium in London. Guardiola defied an English Football Association charge for promoting a political message by continuing to wear a yellow ribbon to criticize the imprisonment of pro-independence Spain’s Catalan politicians. February 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)

“All we are doing is even-handedly applying the laws of the game.”

The Star of David is the centerpiece of the national flag of Israel, a Jewish state, and features on kits and in the stadium.

‘Inappropriate’

“I have no problem with The FA clarifying Rule 4 and specifying that ALL religious symbols are prohibited on a kit if that is the case,” Johnson tweeted.

“But in explaining that decision, the CEO of The FA’s examples are ill judged and in poor taste.”

Johnson, the chief executive of England’s failed bid to stage the 2018 World Cup, added: “The Star of David is a Jewish religious symbol of immense importance to Jews worldwide. To put it in the same bracket as the swastika and Robert Mugabe is offensive and inappropriate.”

The swastika was the symbol of the Nazi regime in Germany that killed six million Jews during the Second World War.

Glenn’s comments came just days after it was announced that Prince William, the president of the FA, would be the first senior British royal to make an official visit to Israel, later this year.

They are also bound to raise fresh questions about English football’s senior leadership after both Glenn and FA chairman Greg Clarke were widely criticized last year for their handling of bullying and racism allegations made by striker Eni Aluko against former England women’s team manager Mark Sampson.

Clarke accepted he was “rightly castigated” for dismissing as “fluff” claims of institutional racism when he appeared before a committee of British lawmakers in October.

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