The 91st Minute: We should be encouraging the behavior UEFA is discouraging – - Techy Hunters


Saturday, June 26, 2021

The 91st Minute: We should be encouraging the behavior UEFA is discouraging –

The 91st Minute is a column by Sam Reno about professional soccer.

It was a wild final matchday of the group stages in the UEFA European Championship on Wednesday, with the Group F table rearranging itself constantly throughout the course of the matches. However, the drama in the matchup between Germany and Hungary extended far beyond the pitch, reaching the desk of decision-makers at UEFA.

It is no secret, as I have even discussed before in this column, that UEFA has either failed to act or done so poorly when presented with human issues such as the one that has presented itself over the course of the last week.

Last week, Hungary’s parliament passed legislation prohibiting children’s content that includes the “promotion” of homosexuality and gender change, likening homosexuality to pedophilia. This came in addition to last year’s near-ban on adoption for potential same-sex parents and the constitutionalized idea that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

UEFA, like many of the other massive sports governing bodies in the world, has long-standing rules that forbid athletes from expressing political messages during their competitions.

We now move to Saturday, where Germany and Portugal contested their group stage match at the Allianz Arena in Munich, a location we will revisit in a minute. Manuel Neuer, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, led his German side onto the field donning the captain’s armband as he has done for his country since 2018.

What then, was the significance of the armband? Neuer, with the support of the DFB (the German Football Association), opted to wear a rainbow-colored armband as a show of support for the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month.

Displays like this are not all that uncommon in the sport, for we have seen anything from corner flags and jerseys to these same armbands with the rainbow design in similar displays of advocacy.

This is where UEFA chose to step in, launching an investigation into both Neuer and the DFB to determine if the act of wearing the armband was in violation of any rules. While the investigation ultimately concluded that no punishment was to be administered, the decision to inquire in the first place was certainly an interesting one from UEFA.

That brings us to Wednesday, when Euro group stage action returned to the Allianz Arena with Hungary entering to face the Germans. The stakes on the pitch were massive, with the winner advancing to the knockouts and the loser likely on their way out of the tournament.

There was another battle brewing off the pitch, however, as Munich mayor Dieter Reiter expressed his desire for the iconic lights of the Allianz Arena to be lit up in a rainbow pattern in protest of the recent Hungarian legislation.

The request was, predictably, declined by UEFA, as they claimed the organization’s political and religious neutrality left them no choice but to disallow the lighting display. The decision, of course, was well received by Hungarian foreign minister Peter Szijjarto, who claimed that “mixing politics and sport” was “harmful and dangerous.”

If mixing politics and sport is truly as dangerous as Szijjarto believes it to be, then why does he take no issue with his fans holding homophobic banners and participating in incredibly racist chants against players?

However, the idea of basic human rights, of course, should not be mistaken as a political forum. There is no room for debate when we are dealing with the freedoms of those who are actively discriminated against.

Szijjarto, and many others who profess a similar sentiment, have no issue with politics in sports until they begin to challenge their unacceptable and harmful societal views. A light display that shows support for the millions around the world whose very identity is scrutinized daily is where they draw the line.

John Amaechi said it best on “The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz,” during a segment about Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib, who recently came out publicly, that one’s personal identity is the most valuable and sacred thing that exists.

Any attempt to banish that identity is nothing less than a despicable act, and certainly one that UEFA should feel they are in no place to defend. It is simply inexcusable that they would choose to act in a manner that protects those who have chosen to worsen the lives of others.

The discriminatory legislation from the Hungarian parliament has bled into the passions of their national team supporters, who have then brought that vile hatred into stadiums at the Euros.

UEFA’s decision to disallow Munich’s light display of support is an active protection of the antiquated sentiments of those fans. UEFA chose to stand stronger against those who chose to act in the name of acceptance than the very fans who brought their prejudice into the stadiums.

Love and compassion, despite UEFA’s best attempts, still shone through during the match on Wednesday. German midfielder Leon Goretzka netted the equalizer in the 84th minute to put an end to Hungary’s underdog campaign in the Euros. In a act of pure poetic justice, Goretzka celebrated by forming a heart with his hands that appeared to be aimed at a group of Hungarian fans seen holding homophobic signs and banners.

While the Allianz Arena may not have been lit up on Wednesday night, the message of Munich, the DFB and the players was heard loud and clear, and it is time UEFA stood in support of love rather than in protection of discrimination.

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