UK’s Wembley Stadium to end solidarity illuminations after not lighting up for Israel

Iconic arch, lit in the past with countries’ colors after major attacks or catastrophes around world, will now only be used for venue-related symbolism

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The arch of Wembley Stadium in London is seen lit up in the colors of the French flag above the words translated from French 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' as a mark of respect to the victims of the deadly attacks in Paris, November 16, 2015. (Matt Dunham/AP)
The arch of Wembley Stadium in London is seen lit up in the colors of the French flag above the words translated from French 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity' as a mark of respect to the victims of the deadly attacks in Paris, November 16, 2015. (Matt Dunham/AP)

The UK’s Wembley Stadium will no longer light up its iconic arch in the colors of countries that have suffered catastrophes, after it eschewed the Israeli national colors following Hamas’s devastating terror attack last month that killed over 1,200 people, most of them civilians.

The new policy was decided on by soccer’s English Football Association in order to avoid political minefields, local media reported.

Wembley is where England’s national team plays its home international games and it is the largest capacity stadium in Britain.

Under the new policy, the arch will not be lit to mark national catastrophes in other countries. It will also not be used to show support for diversity or inclusion campaigns as it has in the past to highlight LGBTQ+ rights, the Sky News reported.

According to the unsourced report, the arch will now only be lit up in colors related to the sports or entertainment events held at the stadium.

The aim is to prevent expectations that the arch will be lit up following world events and the need for the Football Association to assess when to make the gesture or to refrain.

Other occasions when the arch lighting may still be used will be for the passing of national figures or former players for England’s soccer team, the report said.

Wembley Stadium’s iconic arch is seen at Wembley Stadium prior the international friendly soccer match between England and Australia, London, October 13, 2023. (David Cliff/AP)

The new guidelines were first reported by the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Wednesday.

The enormous arch has in the past been lit with the colors of Ukraine, France, and Turkey to show solidarity after those countries suffered attacks. On those occasions, the gesture was made within days.

However, after the October 7 attack on Israel, the arch was not lit in Israel’s colors, though the Houses of Parliament in London were turned blue and white as were other notable landmarks in other cities around the world.

The FA faced criticism from the government, the opposition, and Jewish soccer fans for not displaying the blue and white of Israel’s flag on the arch after the murderous onslaught, during which at least 240 men, women, and children were also abducted and taken hostage into the Gaza Strip.

Following the Hamas attack, the UK government sent a letter to sports associations saying: “In the light of the attacks in Israel on behalf of the secretary of state we would encourage you to mark the events in line with previous events where sport has come together.”

The Palace of Westminster, the home of the UK Houses of Parliament in London, is lit up in the colors of Israel’s flag for victims and hostages of Hamas attacks, Oct. 9, 2023. (Lucy North/PA Images via Getty Images, via JTA)

The FA decided against lighting the Wembley arch blue and white because of major pro-Palestinian activism in England — including among soccer players — as well as concerns over civilian casualties from Israel’s military response in the Gaza Strip, Sky News reported. There have been large pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel rallies on a weekly basis in the UK.

However, as a compromise, during a soccer game between England and Australia on October 13 a minute’s silence was observed to “remember the innocent victims of the devastating events in Israel and Palestine.”

Players also wore black armbands. There was a ban placed on displaying any flags or banners of nations other than those participating in the game, the FA said at the time.

“I recognize that our decision caused hurt to the Jewish community who felt that we should have lit the arch and that we should have shown stronger support for them,” FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said last month. “This was one of the hardest decisions we’ve had to make, and the last thing we ever wanted to do in this situation was to add to the hurt.”

Rabbi Alex Goldberg resigned in protest as chair of the FA’s Faith in Football network.

Chelsea Jewish Supporters’ Group panned the FA decision to not use the arch in a solidarity display for Israel as a “spineless response.”

Israeli soldiers remove bodies of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, October 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Health Secretary Steve Barclay at the time urged lighting Wembley for Israel, telling Sky News: “I think we should make clear our strong support for Israel. We stand with Israel, and I think we’ve seen that with Parliament, we’ve seen it with Number 10. I think it would be fitting to show that with Wembley as well.”

Opposition Labor party leader MK Sir Keir Starmer also backed the move, telling LBC radio Israel’s colors should be on the arch “because I think the message has to go out that we stand with Israel, the UK stands with Israel, and that is a manifestation of that support.”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that over 14,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 5,500 children and 3,500 women. The figures provided by the terror group cannot be independently verified and do not differentiate between civilians and Hamas operatives, and also do not distinguish between those killed by Israeli airstrikes and those killed by failed Palestinian rocket launches such as the one that hit the Al-Ahli hospital in October.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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