As the death toll in Gaza soars beyond 11,000, Sports Editor Oisin Gaffey looks at how the sporting world has reacted to the last month of bloodshed in the Middle East.
Israel’s war on Gaza, following the Hamas attacks of October 7th, has culminated so far in the death of over 11,000 Palestinians, sparking condemnation and outrage across many facets of societies across the world. Sport is no different.
The Premier League’s Response
Following the outbreak of the conflict on October 7th, the English FA confirmed that all Premier League games on the 21st and 22nd October would facilitate a moment of silence “as a mark of respect for all those affected.” The silence was well-received by the majority of football fans attending matches that weekend. Similarly, Premier League managers, players and match officials wore black armbands to commemorate the innocent lives lost, and will continue to wear the armband amid the conflict.
Premier League managers, players and match officials wore black armbands to commemorate the innocent lives lost.
The Premier League has been criticised on two fronts for its response to the crisis currently unfolding in Israel and Gaza. Firstly, the Chairman of the Israeli Professional Football Leagues Erez Halfon said he was “shocked, amazed and disappointed beyond words” at the FA’s response to the outbreak of the conflict. The Football Association made the decision to not light up the symbolic Wembley Arch in Israeli colours ahead of England’s clash with Australia on October 13th, instead opting to hold a moment of silence for all victims. It is understood that Halfon believes this gesture was “ambiguous” and was not critical enough of Hamas for their attacks on October 7th.
Shortly after their decision to hold a moment of silence, the Premier League announced the banning of Israeli and Palestinian flags from stadiums in order to “ease tensions among fans.” One Liverpool fan has taken to social media to protest the treatment he received at a game against Toulouse in the Europa League, after he raised a Palestine flag whilst wearing a hoodie bearing the message “Free Palestine”. The fan was forcibly removed from his seat and had his flag and jumper confiscated. Commenting on Twitter after the game, the fan said the following:
“Last night the club that I’ve adored since I was 5 broke me. Everything I thought we stood for felt like a farce. I feel like never coming back, all I did was show solidarity to my people who have and are being killed every day for many decades now.”
‘I feel like never coming back, all I did was show solidarity to my people who have and are being killed every day for many decades now.’
Prior to this incident, Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah posted a video on social media calling for immediate humanitarian aid for Gaza. In the minute-long video, the Egyptian winger described the escalation in violence “unbearable”, saying “The massacres need to stop.” Salah is “calling on the world leaders to come together to prevent the slaughter of innocent souls”, and spoke after the bombing of the al-Ahli Arab hospital in which officials say ‘hundreds’ were killed. He describes the scenes at the hospital as “horrifying” before calling for “humanitarian aid to Gaza” including the need for food, water and medical supplies.
Here in Ireland, Phibsborough’s Bohemians FC have a longstanding history of using their away jerseys to raise awareness for various social issues. Early this year, Bohs released their white strip, dotted with green, red and black flecks to represent the Palestinian flag. The 2023 shirt is in partnership with ‘Sport for Life Palestine’, meaning 10% of proceeds from the shirt will help support children in Palestine. Speaking in March, Bohemians manager Declan Devine has said that the jersey initiative “sends a fantastic message from Bohemian Football Club in Ireland that the people here are fully behind the struggle that is going on in Palestine”
The 2023 shirt is in partnership with ‘Sport for Life Palestine’, meaning 10% of proceeds from the shirt will help support children in Palestine.
On November 6th, Bohemians held a fundraising event in which they streamed the award winning film ‘Gaza’ in the stadium grounds. All proceeds from the event were donated to ‘Medical Aid for Palestine’. The club also produced a new range of scarves that featured a symbol of solidarity between Bohemians and Palestine, with both the Irish and Palestinian flag represented on the scarf. Profits from the sale of the scarves also went to ‘Medical Aid for Palestine’.
The Toll on Palestinian Athletes
Amidst the ongoing crisis in Gaza, the Palestinian Men’s National Football Team were preparing for a World Cup Qualifier against Lebanon on Thursday 16th November. The match, which took place in the neutral venue of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, finished 0-0. Media Manager Ahmed Rajoub told journalists about the extent to which the ongoing situation is affecting players’ preparation.
Amidst the ongoing crisis in Gaza, the Palestinian Men’s National Football Team were preparing for a World Cup Qualifier.
He commented on the difficulties of focusing on football amidst the worsening situation, saying, “we just can’t get the players focused on the game when people are killed and injured every day since the conflict started. The players don’t talk about football, but about the war, and when they are in the room or the bus, they rush to follow the current events via their mobile phones to check on their families, relatives and friends.”
Athletes and Fans from Across the Globe show their Solidarity
Ahead of their UEFA Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid on October 25th, Celtic’s board of directors had asked fans not to bring “any flags associated with the Middle East conflict” to the stadium. Members of Celtic’s ‘Green Brigade’ supporters club defied this request from the club, and issued a call for solidarity with Palestine, handing out thousands of flags before the game. Celtic Park was a sea of green, red, white and black as kick off approached, as fans also broke into a powerful rendition of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
In the aftermath, members of ‘The Green Brigade’ have been banned from attending home and away matches by the club’s board, who are more politically conservative than the fanbase they claim to represent. Speaking to Al Jazeera, members of ‘The Green Brigade’ are “unashamed of and unequivocal” of their support for Palestine. They said that, “once again, the wider Celtic support showed that they too had the courage and conviction to stand and be counted. To side with the right side of history.”
'The Green Brigade’ have been banned from attending home and away matches by the club’s board.
Tunisian tennis star Ons Jabeur announced that she would donate part of her WTA Finals prize money to help Palestinians after she beat Wimbledon champion Markéta Vondroušová on November 2nd. Speaking to a reporter after the match, she said she was “very happy with the win, but I haven’t been happy lately.” “The situation in the world doesn’t make me happy”, she said before breaking down in tears. “It’s very tough seeing children, babies dying every day”, she continued, “It’s heartbreaking, so i have decided to donate part of my prize money to help the Palestinians.”
Egyptian swimmer Abdelrahman Sameh spoke after winning Gold in the men’s 50m butterfly race at the World Aquatics Swimming World Cup, saying that he has received “death threats” for supporting Palestine. “I don’t know if I can celebrate this, honestly. It’s been a mentally very tough week for me” he continued, “My brothers and sisters are being killed in Palestine right now.” To add to this, there are claims that Sameh has been removed or edited from a Twitter post from World Aquatics, who posted a picture of Gold Medal winners from the tournament, with Sameh nowhere to be seen.
Sameh has been removed or edited from a Twitter post from World Aquatics, who posted a picture of Gold Medal winners from the tournament, with Sameh nowhere to be seen.
Athletes and fans from across the world are using their platforms to show their solidarity with Palestine after the events of the past month, yet it persists that Sports Organisations have been reluctant to speak up or allow others to. Athletes and fans are doing their bit to show their support, it’s time sports organisations follow suit.