Euros 2024: How will Germany police pro-Palestinian expression?

I witnessed the Nuseirat massacre but Western media doesn't care
6 min read
14 June, 2024

Euro 2024, Europe’s biggest football tournament, will kick off on Friday in Germany. Lasting a month, and with 51 matches to be played across 10 cities, the tournament will pose a big policing challenge.

In the days leading up to the tournament, German politicians and tournament organisers have assured the public that the country is ready and able to handle the tournament, including its security. Interior minister Nancy Faeser said last week that she hoped the Euros would bring about “a more carefree time” during world turmoil.

"European football fans and players are not shying away from politics, including in their opposition to the genocide in Gaza"

Meanwhile, the country has played staunch ally to Israel, whose genocide in Gaza has killed more than 40,000 Palestinians in just eight months. Public anger over Germany’s defence and support of the killing, manifesting as demonstrations or other forms of protest, have been brutally shut down by German security forces. Though a climate of fear pervades, the protests persist.

The Euros are a pan-European tournament, but they draw in hundreds of millions of viewers from around the world – making it a huge potential platform for protest. European football fans have been moved by the harrowing scenes coming out of Gaza, and some of the most recent protests have included those seen at the Scotland vs. Israel Women’s Euro 2025 qualifying match in Glasgow last month. 

With the genocide continuing unabated, we have to expect at least attempts at pro-Palestine protest from fans – and with that, attempts to curb such expression from tournament organisers and German authorities.

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Palestine flags in stadiums: Vague wording, precedent unclear

The stadium and tournament rules from UEFA, the governing body for European football, are not explicit in their prohibition of Palestinian, Israeli, or other flags inside or near stadiums. Instead, UEFA rules for inside the stadium forbid expression of “political” messages, particularly “discriminatory propaganda messages”; outside the stadiums, it has prohibited “political and/or religious demonstrations” in what it calls “clean zones” around the vicinity of tournament venues.

UEFA has in the past sanctioned expressions of solidarity with Palestine at European matches. The football governing body reportedly fined activists 3,000 euros after they stormed the pitch at the Women’s Champions League final in Bilbao last month to display a flag bearing the message “Stop Genocide” and “EU don’t be an accessory”. 

Fans of the Scottish club Celtic have been outspoken, flag-waving supporters of the Palestinian cause [Getty].
Fans of the Scottish football club Celtic have been outspoken, flag-waving bearers of the Palestinian cause [Getty].

Its communication around recent decisions on matches where Palestinian flags and banners bearing messages of solidarity with Gaza have also been unclear.

In October, hundreds of fans of the Scottish club Celtic brought in and waved Palestinian flags at a Champions League match against Atletico Madrid, in defiance of club orders. UEFA imposed a hefty fine on the club, in what was widely reported in the media as being punishment for the waving of Palestinian flags. However, UEFA later told the BBC that the fine was imposed for other reasons. 

The New Arab contacted UEFA for clarification on whether Palestinian flags would be allowed into stadiums but did not receive a response by the time this article was published. The vague wording and confusing precedent set by other matches considered, Germany must protect the right to protest or wave flags and banners, a representative of Amnesty International told The New Arab.

“Both UEFA and the German authorities must strictly respect fans’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly within and around stadiums, including in relation to Palestine,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International Head of Labour Rights and Sport.

“The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are protected both by international human rights law and the German constitution and extend to privately owned spaces, including football stadiums,” Cockburn said.

"Germany won't necessarily be kinder to tourists or football fans wanting to show solidarity with Palestine"

Amnesty “strongly urges the German authorities and UEFA to refrain from issuing any blanket bans on either protests in solidarity with Palestine or certain symbols such as flags in this context.”

Further away from the stadiums, the rules around waving Palestinian flags appear clearer.

The man in charge of organising the “Fan Mile” for the tournament in Berlin told German media that only the flags of the tournament’s participating nations could be waved.

“All national flags of participating nations are of course allowed – that's part of it. We ask that you leave all other flags at home,” Moritz van Dulmen, managing director of the state-owned Kulturprojekte Berlin reportedly said.

‘Guinea pigs’

The uncertainty around how German police might respond to Palestine solidarity is all the more of a concern considering the heavy-handedness they have shown in the domestic leagues season.

A report released at the end of May by Dachverband der Fanhilfen, an umbrella organisation of German football fan groups, found that German police had committed “excessive violence” about two dozen times last season. Violence committed included the use of pepper spray and tear gas on spectators – the use of both of which are prohibited by UEFA and the world football governing body FIFA – and raids on the homes of fans.

Germany has taken highly restrictive measures against the actions, symbols, and expressions of solidarity with Palestine [Getty].
Germany has taken highly restrictive measures against the actions, symbols and expressions of solidarity with Palestine [Getty].

A DdF spokesperson told German media that there was a “clear connection” between the police violence used and the upcoming Euros, saying that spectators of domestic league matches had been used as “guinea pigs” to test tactics.

“The police used everyday league life not only to deliberately intimidate fans, but also to test operational tactics and targeted actions for the [Euros] tournament,” they said.

German authorities and the police have attempted to justify such tactics by saying that die-hard fans are becoming more violent and politicised.

“Even though the police and some politicians tried to spread a narrative by which fans would be responsible for the heavy use of force by the state, people who regularly attend games will clearly tell you otherwise,” Oliver Wiebe from Dachverband der Fanhilfen told The New Arab.

“There was surely no escalation or new behaviour by fans, but only a very aggressive and excessive approach by police forces against them, which reminded some of the older generations clearly of measures that were used in preparation of the World Cup in Germany in 2006,” Wiebe said.

European football fans and players are indeed not shying away from politics, including in their opposition to the genocide in Gaza. Scottish fans have shown their mettle in support for Palestine, as exhibited by Celtic and the Women’s Euro qualifier protests; and Turkish fans and players show vocal and near-constant support for Palestine too, with the Palestine flag waved by fans at the Women’s Euros qualifier and by the amputee national football team last month.

UEFA and German authorities are unlikely to give grace to fans and players from abroad, Tobias den Haan from the European Legal Support Centre told The New Arab.

“I think Germany won't necessarily be kinder to tourists or football fans wanting to show solidarity with Palestine,” said den Haan, who is the ELSC’s Monitor Project Officer for Germany.

“We know how the UEFA and FIFA have acted so far around the world in response to people showing solidarity with Palestine in stadiums, and I think Germany will be no different."

Shahla Omar is a freelance journalist based in London. She was previously a staff journalist and news editor at The New Arab.

Follow her on X: @shahlasomar