Tackling Racism | The TRNC flag and i-Greek petition
The TRNC flag and the i-Greek petition
English football club Arsenal FC moved to the new Emirates stadium in 2006. Renowned for its multi-national team and supporters, the club called on fans to adorn their new home with flags from around the world. Embargoed! member and Arsenal season-ticket holder Mete Ahmed brought along the national flag of his ethnic homeland, the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC), and hung it over the wall in front of his seat. It immediately drew the wrath of Arsenal's Greek Cypriot supporters, who demanded the club remove the lone TRNC flag.
Club officials asked Mete to take down his flag, but he refused. The club subsequently investigated the matter and to see if the flag should be permitted or banned. Following this, Mete received a letter from Arsenal FC's Stadium Manager John Beattie informing him that he could fly his TRNC flag in the designated area at the stadium.
The letter stated that the club was fully aware of the political sensitivities surrounding Cyprus and the complaint had been carefully considered. While Arsenal acknowledged the presence of the TRNC flag would upset some fans, the club, having taken advice from the UK Home Office, did not feel this was sufficient grounds to refuse Mete the right to fly his flag. The letter added that the club believed had the complaint been upheld, it would be tantamount to the club discriminating against Turkish Cypriots; although the TRNC is only recognised by Turkey, Arsenal accept the TRNC flag is the national flag of Turkish Cypriots.
The TRNC's London Representative Office had also supplied Arsenal with evidence surrounding the flag issue. This included the outcome of a High Court case against Transport for London (TfL), who had refused advertising from the TRNC's London Tourism Board on the grounds that the TRNC did not officially exist. TfL lost the case.
Arsenal's decision to permit the TRNC flag infuriated Greek Cypriots, who started a mass petition on the igreek.co.uk website to ban the flag. Nearly 10,000 people signed it, with one in three of the signatories adding racist comments against Turks. The offensive comments included many likening the TRNC flag to a Nazi swastika, while many others demanded "Turks out of Cyprus" ir claimed "Cyprus is Greek". More extreme comments in both English and Greek included "The best Turk is a dead Turk", while some air religious hatred with comments such as "F*ck the Koran". Mete also experienced verbal abuse, including death threats.
Shocked by the level of hate on the petition and the unwillingness of the organisers to delete or stop their campaign, Embargoed! collated evidence and presented it to the police. Sadly, while the organisers were cautioned by the police, no further action was taken against them or those who had left offensive comments.
In another unfortunate move, Arsenal showed it was unwilling to stand up to the racist bullying when its Managing Director Keith Edelman announced the club had decided to ban all national flags at home games. He claimed they had been forced to take the decision given the strength of feelings on the issue and safety concerns for people visiting the Emirates stadium.
Mr Edelman stated the move was designed to "bring the matter to a close and ensure politics remains outside of football". However, Embargoed! and key British anti-racism football groups such as Kick It Out believe it merely moved the problem of racism away from Arsenal's doorstep and left it unchecked.
The "i-Greek" incident prompted Embargoed! to launch its Stand Up to Racism campaign, supported by other leading British anti-racism groups such as the Newham Monitoring Project and Kick it Out.