English soccer executive sorry for equating swastika with Star of David

Martin Glenn, the English FA’s CEO, speaks at FIFA’s annual Conference for Equality and Inclusion in 2017. (Getty)
Martin Glenn, the English FA’s CEO, speaks at FIFA’s annual Conference for Equality and Inclusion in 2017. (Getty)

The CEO of the English Football Association, the governing body of soccer in England, has apologized for mentioning the Star of David alongside the swastika as examples of religious or political symbols that can’t be worn by players or managers during games.

Martin Glenn, the FA’s chief executive since 2015, spoke over the weekend amid controversy surrounding Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola’s wearing of a yellow ribbon. He sought to explain why symbols like the ribbon – worn in support of Catalonian political prisoners in Spain – are banned.

“We have re-written Law 4 of the game so that things like a [British Remembrance] poppy are OK,” Glenn said. “But things that are going to be highly divisive, and that could be strong religious symbols, it could be the Star of David, it could be the hammer and sickle, it could be a swastika, anything like [former Zimbabwe president] Robert Mugabe on your shirt, these are the things we don’t want.”

His comments, of course, drew criticism from the Jewish community in England. “The Star of David is a Jewish religious symbol of immense importance to Jews worldwide,” Simon Johnson, the CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, said in a statement. “To put it in the same bracket as the swastika and Robert Mugabe is offensive and inappropriate.”

Johnson, who used to work for the FA, said Glenn’s words were “ill-judged and in poor taste,” and said the Jewish Leadership Council would formally express its disappointment to the FA.

As similar disappointment and anger swelled around England, Glenn moved quickly to apologize.

“I would like to apologize for any offense caused by the examples I gave when referring to political and religious symbols in football, specifically in reference to the Star of David, which is a hugely important symbol to Jewish people all over the world,” he said in a statement Monday.

The Jewish Leadership Council and other anti-discrimination organizations welcomed and accepted the apology.

Glenn has also taken heat for his stance on Guardiola’s yellow ribbon. He fought hard last year to ensure that British players would be allowed to wear poppies on their jerseys. The poppy has, in many ways, become a political symbol itself. But those who support its symbolism present it as apolitical to ensure its ubiquity.

Glenn won that battle, and the applicable rule, which stipulates that “equipment must not have any political, religious or personal slogans, statements or images,” is now interpreted so as to not apply to the poppy.

Nonetheless, Glenn draws a hard line on Guardiola’s ribbon. “To be honest and to be very clear, Pep Guardiola’s yellow ribbon is a political stance, it’s a symbol of Catalan independence,” he said, insisting he was simply trying to apply the laws of the game.

“Where do you draw the line?” he added. “Should we have someone with a UKIP badge, someone with an ISIS badge?”

The answer to “where you draw the line,” however, is apparently right before the poppy.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at henrydbushnell@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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