Belarusian activists disappointed in football association ban

Participants in a march in Tallinn to support Belarusian women on October 11.
Participants in a march in Tallinn to support Belarusian women on October 11.

Belarusian opposition activists in Estonia are disappointed that the Estonian Football Association did not let them take red and white flags and banners to A. Le Coq Arena on Friday for a football match between the two countries.

"We have nothing against Estonian authorities and the police, who gave us permission to walk around before the match and escorted us from Freedom Square to the Lilleküla stadium. But we are displeased with the football association and the management of A. Le Coq Arena," MTÜ Valgevene Maja board member Vitali Moltšanov told ERR on Monday.

He said the activist group asked the football association about restrictions at the match and they were told that they would not be allowed into the arena with white-red-white flags and banners that are against the current leadership of Belarus. The Belarusians did leave their flags and banners before entering the arena, but they were also not allowed onto the stands in white-red outfits, which the activists put on their regular clothes.

"I am no lawyer, but this seems like this is a restriction on freedom of speech," Moltšanov added.

Football association spokesperson Mihkel Uiboleht told ERR that international matches are organized under FIFA and UEFA auspices, which state that symbols and actions that have any kind of political background or content are forbidden in arenas and the focus should be on sport.

"It is not about who supports who politically, the question is that the established rules for football matches say so and among them is a rule that states that football does not take political decisions for or against someone," Uiboleht said.

"Obviously, it makes no difference who is or is not supported. A situation such as this is common for fans and people in football and stems from international rules that are monitored by a delegation assigned to the match, always from a neutral country. That is how it was on Friday," the spokesperson said.

Uiboleht noted that the association met with a Belarusian community representative two weeks before the match and they were told what their obligations are, as based on UEFA and FIFA regulations.

"The meeting was very constructive and went by in an understanding atmosphere. These meetings are also common in planning football matches," Uiboleht said.

Both UEFA and FIFA say that political actions are forbidden. At the same time, the activists were consciously dressed accordingly, the spokesperson added. "The question was that actions are not allowed, but wearing an outfit is an action," Uiboleht emphasized.

Nobody was turned away from the match if they entered in red-white jackets or sweaters, he said and added that there were plenty people at the arena sporting clothes in Belarusian colors.

Moltšanov said there was at least one white-red-white flag in the Estonian fan sector during Friday's match and there was also a banner in support of Andrei Zeltser, a Belarusian man killed during a KGB raid on his apartment in September.

He thanked Estonian football fans, who also supported the Belarusian side and shouted along with the opposition call of Жыве Беларусь! (Long live Belarus!). Moltšanov noted that besides the official Belarusian flag, there was no red and green in sight. Estonia defeated Belarus 2:0 in Friday's match.

Uiboleht said it is hard to estimate how much the Estonian Football Association would have been fined if the activists were let into the arena sporting red-white colors, but the fines usually start at €10,000. He noted that political issues tend to be more "expensive".

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Editor: Kristjan Kallaste

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