The Double Standard in Soccer Activism Highlighted by Ukraine

Jeremy Kravitz, Contributing Writer

In the light of Russia’s invasion into Ukraine, the world’s biggest soccer organizations have declared their support for Ukraine. They have changed their Instagram profile pictures to  the backdrop of the Ukrainian flag, they have posted Ukranians holding flags and encouraged chanting in support, and they have allowed players to display their support as well. 

While most of the reactions to this decision  have been positive, it has also outlined a major hypocrisy in these organizations: the news coverage and treatment of the Ukrainian migrant crisis compared to the crisis from Syria and Afghanistan. Many fans and players took to social media to call out the lack of response to human rights violations in Israel and Palestine. 

This reaction stands in contrast to their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

In the past, the Premier League and Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have fined players who declared a statement of support for the protection of human rights in Palestine. These statements were not inherently political, offensive, or anti-Israel, just pro human rights. Wristbands with the Palestinian flag were banned, mentions of the cause in after-match press conferences were critiqed, and flags were confiscated from both fans and players alike. 

Yet, this reaction stands in contrast to their response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Not only do the soccer clubs have a much greater presence on social media, but there have also been moments of silence before games, captains wore Ukrainian bands to show their support, and players and coaches were encouraged to show  their support.The leagues who have been notoriously apolitical are stepping in, and people are taking notice.

Fans across the world’s major soccer leagues have called the differences in reactions out. What’s the important distinction between the two? One of the main differences is media backing and Western support. Russia can be viewed and is commonly portrayed as public enemy number one. There are not many sources right now in the West that would actively defend Russia when given a choice. The invasion is being covered by every media outlet and people feel secure in their opinion that Russia is wrong to invade Ukraine. Some question the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA)’s decision to remove Russian clubs from the continental tournaments—as the owners of the Russian clubs are friends with the Kremlin—but not Israeli clubs. 

It’s one thing to declare support or not as organizations, but it’s horrific that these soccer leagues don’t even allow for any fan or player activism. These organizations tend to remove themself from anything that doesn’t directly affect them negatively. They didn’t take any steps for Black Lives Matter until there was enough outrage, and they still tend to not give enough support. They need to stay popular and “righteous” in order to rake in the most funds and stay at the top. While it’s impossible to compare the war in Ukraine and the human rights violations of Palestinians, the latter is a more hotly contested political debate. It is truly hypocritical to ban support for one based on rating numbers negatively while using a war to gain favor on the other end. We fans need to continue to call the organizations out and create the change we need. Currently these leagues are valuing politics over human rights, and as a staple in many fan’s lives, they should be a better model.

This piece also appears in our March 2022 print edition.