“SHE WORE A yellow ribbon in the merry month of May”. In recent days, the yellow ribbon has taken a different meaning. Far away from the references to Arsenal’s yellow cup final strips, Pep Guardiola has been charged by the FA for wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel which represents a protest against the incarceration of Catalan politicians following a failed attempt to gain independence.
I’m not going to pontificate my opinion on Catalan independence or the subsequent imprisonment of those in charge. It is not my place as a sports journalist. This is neither the time nor the place to be having those discussions. Sports have to remain apolitical for the most part. Short of abhorring hatred and other such evils, contentious political issues are not for those on an unrelated platform to publically discuss.
Pep’s bleeding heart is admirable and his passion for his native Catalonia is touching but he needs to recognise his own inherent ability to change opinions just by his endorsement of a cause. The Catalan question is one that has merit on both sides and Pep’s blazon passion and reckless inconsideration damages the integrity of the league his Manchester City side are dominating right now. Football has a hugely impressionable young audience and dare I say that Manchester City, having only been this successful for less than a decade, have a larger percentage of young fans than most other clubs.
There is an underlying issue here and that is about influence and responsibility. I’m not saying that Pep, or any other sports person or person of interest, should not have a political stance or opinion; what I am saying is that when you use a completely non-political platform where you can’t be challenged to spout your support and endorsement for a cause, you are abusing your power in a way that is opportunistic and simply wrong.
Pep’s argument for this blatant contravention of the FA’s rules? That his cause is humanitarian rather than political. Now, I’m not a politics student, but anyone can see that if one takes the view of the Spanish government (that the Catalan government were trying to gain independence illegally) then jail time is perhaps apt.
The legitimacy of this argument in relation to Pep’s renders the argument naturally political and therefore his defence of himself falls apart like wet tissue paper.
Guardiola is also hugely hypocritical in his pseudo-humanitarian crusade. Let us not forget who pays him and who pays his players. Sheikh Mansour is the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and has amassed his fortune in his native country. The UAE is a nightmare from a humanitarian perspective and the Manchester City owner’s strong base in the country renders him, and by extension his funding, complicit in the systemic human rights violations that the UAE commit. The UAE is on the Human Rights Watchlist for abuses of labour, free-speech violations and torture. Pep can sit in front of the journalists all he likes but can’t escape the fact that outspoken journalists have been jailed and tortured for doing their jobs in the place his employer calls home.
So what is to be done? The FA has charged Guardiola after repeated warnings and it is clear that the only course of action that will be effective in shutting down Sgt. Guardiola’s Bleeding Hearts Club Band would be a stadium ban. Forcibly taking his platform from him on match days will solve the issue of undue political statements and also effectively stop him from doing it in the future, given as he himself put it recently that he would give up his protest if he thought it was negatively affecting his team.
Some might regard my solution as harsh but I would state to them that when Nicklas Bendtner is banned for a game for showing a pair of Paddy Power pants, when Jose Mourinho gets sent to the stands for taking a step out of his technical area, when players are repeatedly booked for celebrating “in excess”, then this issue deserves to be punished in a manner that is consistent with the seriousness of his offence.
He is damaging not only himself and his team. He is damaging the league with all the players and staff that includes by association; he is damaging English football’s very standing on the world stage, something that the FA has painfully built up in the wake of hooliganism. Worst of all, he damages democracy by not allowing people to make up their own minds on where they stand on a decidedly political issue.
Ban Pep, make him an example and preserve football’s apolitical nature so that it can remain the world’s game.