Manchester City manager and Catalonia native, Pep Guardiola has recently accepted a charge from the FA for wearing a ‘political symbol’ in the form of a yellow ribbon to support jailed leaders of the ‘illegal’ referendum over Catalonian independence.
Guardiola, a former player and manager of the Catalonian football giant, Barcelona, has accepted that he breached FA rules when he wore the yellow ribbon in Premier League games in recent months, yet will continue to wear the symbol before and after matches, in accordance with FA rules.
The stance of Guardiola is believed to be one of observance rather than respect, as he acknowledges and adheres to the rules of English football’s governing body but has not yet apologised for the rules breach.
The yellow ribbon is meant to show support for leaders of the referendum in the Catalonian region of Spain over independence that occurred in October and was deemed illegal by the Spanish government.
In 2017, Barcelona Football Club was one of the first institutions to declare support for Catalonian independence, despite knowing that they would be kicked out of the Spanish football league system if independence was attained. Guardiola has strong links to the club having played for them (1990-2001) and managed them (2008-2012) in one of their most successful periods.
This is the most recent example of figures in football supporting a political message, however, it has been seen many times before and is not an isolated occurrence.
Footballers taking a political stance has often caused great controversy due to the media exposure they have and the size of audiences who watch them. These actions raise the issue of whether politics and personal views have any place in football.
Paulo Di Canio, an ex-professional footballer for clubs such as Juventus and West Ham, infamously caused controversy in 2005 when he labelled himself as a fascist and subsequently performed the ‘Roman Salute’, a 20th century fascist gesture to Roma and Livorno fans whilst playing for Lazio.
Similarly, influential football managers such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Slaven Bilic have openly admitted that they are socialists, which has been well publicised by the media.
The act of revealing a message on a t-shirt beneath match shirts has also been a common action amongst footballers to express a personal message or view.
After scoring the winning goal in the 2008 World Cup Final for Spain, midfielder Andres Iniesta famously revealed a shirt with the message “Dani Jarque siempre con nosotros” meaning ‘Dani Jarque always with us’ which paid tribute to the Espanyol player Dani Jarque, who had tragically died of a heart attack the year before. Actions such as this have subsequently been banned.
Footballers receive a lot of publicity and have an important stage on which they can share their views, as the messages they relay spread to millions worldwide.
This is a difficult issue for footballing governing bodies as they cannot prevent footballers from having personal views and exercising their right to freedom of speech, however, certain political messages can be damaging to the game and wider society.
The example of Di Canio is a pertinent one here, as spreading messages of fascism is universally frowned upon, yet he is entitled to his own views and political allegiances.
The difficulty here is that players such as Andres Iniesta display sentimental messages that mean a lot to the footballing world, but that may have to be sacrificed in order to restrict those who wish to express less acceptable ideas.
With the rise of social media, those involved with professional football have many mediums through which they can express their ideas off the pitch, meaning that it seems reasonable that they should respect rules preventing them from supporting messages and ideas on the football pitch. Guardiola has heeded the FA’s warning and done so, detaching his political views from his footballing ones.
Image: Thomas Rodenbücher