EU says UEFA has no ‘excuse’ for blocking rainbow protest

National Sports

Munich’s stadium is illuminated in rainbow colors on the occasion of Christopher Street Day in Munich, Germany, Saturday, July 9, 2016. UEFA has declined the Munich city council’s application to have its stadium illuminated in rainbow colors for Germany’s final Euro 2020 group game against Hungary on Wednesday June 23, 2021. (Tobias Hase/dpa via AP)

BRUSSELS (AP) — A top European Union official said he can’t find “any reasonable excuse” for UEFA to reject host city Munich’s plans to display rainbow colors during a match between Germany and Hungary at the European Championship.

UEFA said it understood the city’s intention to send a message to promote diversity and inclusion but stressed that it was “a politically and religiously neutral organization” after it denied the application to have the stadium illuminated in support of LGBT rights.

“Yes, I find it very difficult to understand what UEFA is trying to do by going against this initiative of the Munich city council,” European Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas said during a news conference ahead of Wednesday’s match. “Frankly, I do not find any reasonable excuse for that.”

Schinas said he was even more surprised by the decision since the governing body of European soccer has previously supported campaigns for inclusion and against racism.

“They supported all the good causes. And all of a sudden, they make an issue out of this,” he said.

UEFA, which has the final say as tournament organizer, previously said it had to decline the request from Munich because of its political context — “a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament.”

“UEFA respects the rainbow,” the governing body of football in Europe said in a statement on Wednesday.

“It is a symbol that embodies our core values, promoting everything that we believe in – a more just and egalitarian society, tolerant of everyone, regardless of their background, belief or gender,” UEFA said.

UEFA insisted that the decision to turn down the request was misinterpreted by those who perceived it as a political statement.

“On the contrary, the request itself was political, linked to the Hungarian football team’s presence in the stadium for this evening’s match with Germany,” it said. “For UEFA, the rainbow is not a political symbol, but a sign of our firm commitment to a more diverse and inclusive society.”

Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter’s application to UEFA made clear the city wanted to protest a law passed by Hungarian lawmakers last week that prohibits sharing with minors any content portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment. The law has been denounced as anti-LGBT discrimination by human rights groups, who say it links homosexuality with pedophilia.

In a statement Wednesday, the European Union’s chief executive vowed to take any action necessary to thwart the new law, which must be endorsed by Hungary’s president to take effect.

“This Hungarian bill is a shame,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.

UEFA said it believes “that discrimination can only be fought in close collaboration with others” and it proposed that Munich illuminates the stadium with rainbow colors on June 28 for Christopher Street Day, a day celebrating LGBT rights, or between July 3-9 for the Christopher Street Day week in the city.

Several other stadiums in Germany that are unaffiliated with the Euro 2020 tournament said they would light up their venues in rainbow colors.

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