• Sweden edition
 
Crowd ban 'risks bolstering extremists'

Crowd ban 'risks bolstering extremists'

Published: 07 Mar 2009 00:52 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Mar 2009 00:52 GMT+01:00

I have never been a big tennis fan. In fact, the odds are that I wouldn't even have heard of the Davis Cup match between Sweden and Israel, taking place this weekend in Malmö, if it wasn't for the "Stop the Match-Boycott Israel" campaign which has been underway since December. The campaign organizers are doing their best to mobilize thousands of demonstrators to Malmö this weekend and according to Malmö police chief, Håkan Jarborg Eriksson, some extremists have stated that they want to "stop the match at any cost".

Like it or not, sporting events are part of our culture and official matches between national teams often become political events. This is particularly true in Sweden. Many Swedes were in favor of boycotting the Olympic Games in China, for example. Others wanted to boycott the 2006 Football World Cup because it promoted prostitution and human trafficking in Germany. The Davis Cup itself has also been a source of controversy in the past. When Sweden played Rhodesia and Chile in the late sixties and early seventies there were many calls for cancellation and mass demonstrations were organized.

Many sports fans may object to it, but in reality sports and politics are both part of the public arena, and cannot always be separated. In a democracy people have the right to mix them together, to demonstrate and even call for boycotts. Still, municipal officials are expected to live up to their minimal responsibilities even in the face of an angry crowd. This is the reason that the decision made by Malmö's sports and recreation committee, to hold the Israel-Sweden match behind closed doors is so outrageous.

According to Bengt Forsberg, chairman of the committee, there was no political motive behind the decision. Though police had said the match could go ahead and that the public could be admitted, Forsberg's committee decided not to take the chance. "This is absolutely not a boycott", he explained, "We do not take political positions on sporting events. We have made a judgment that this is a high-risk match for our staff, for players and for officials". In other words, someone made a threat and the city of Malmö decided to cave in.

To many this may seem reasonable at first sight. Why take unnecessary risks? If there are concrete threats, it could be claimed, everything must be done to avoid casualties. But in this age of terror and violence where does this end?

Anyone who has been anywhere near a Stockholm derby football match, for example, couldn't miss the extensive police presence. Policemen on foot, on horse and in helicopters above try to maintain the peace, at an enormous cost to the tax payer, while large groups of drunken young men throw objects at the field, terrorize other spectators and get involved in large scale fights. The authorities, quite rightly, have decided time and again to fight hooliganism and protect peaceful football fans. It is, after all, a basic civil right to engage in sporting activities without being subjected to threats and violence. There has been talk of anti-hooliganism legislation, and the National Council for Crime Prevention even proposed treating hooliganism as organized crime. But in the case of the tennis match in Malmö, the combative rhetoric disappears and the ones who are punished are the fans instead of the hooligans. Why is this?

One explanation is that Mr. Forsberg and his committee aren't being entirely honest or they may be extremely naïve. Despite their claims, any decision at this level is political. Obviously, no one will stop the money making and extremely popular football league because of threats. In this case, freedom and democracy will prevail against the dark forces of violence. But when it comes to a tennis match against Israel the attitude changes. Mr. Forsberg obviously doesn't care much about a match against a team from a country that a large part of his constituency hates anyway. I wonder if the good citizens of Malmö would approve of banning fans from a Malmö FF game because someone said he's so pissed off that he might hurt someone.

At the risk of being accused (yet again) of promoting paranoid theories of Anti-Semitism I'll add the following point: after giving in to threats such as the ones made by angry Anti-Israel demonstrators, why shouldn't the City Council of Malmö close down the Jewish cemetery and synagogue since they were already attacked and are definitely at a high risk of being attacked again? Why shouldn't pro-Israel demonstrations be banned since demonstrators are often met by angry stone-throwing mobs? In fact, why shouldn't local authorities close down the Israeli Embassy in Stockholm or the Jewish centre in Helsingborg, both of which have recently been attacked?

This scenario may have sounded unrealistic a few months ago, but the decision to ban the public from the Davis Cup match shows that it is more than possible. A few Jewish or Israeli targets may not affect most Swedes but it's a slippery road. If a few threats on a relatively minor sporting event can empty a 4,000 seat arena, just imagine what a real terrorist attack would do to Swedish society. Would a terrorist attack on a local bus close down the public transport system? Will night clubs and restaurants lose their licenses if they are targeted by terrorists? Will municipalities say they prefer not to risk going on with daily life even when the police clearly say they can handle the work load? Regardless of political convictions, there must be a consensus that a modern freedom loving democracy has to protect itself against violent extremists. In the post 9/11 world, perhaps it's time for local authorities to realize that the times, they are a'changing.

Another explanation for Malmö's City Council decision may derive from the very nature of the objections to the match. It's a discriminating decision that is a result of a discriminating campaign. Make no mistake, "Stop the match – Boycott Israel" is a legitimate campaign. I don't agree with what they say or with their political allies but no one can take away their right to express their objections to Israeli policies or to publicly sympathize with the Palestinians in Gaza. It's true, some of them have said terrible things and spread vicious lies (such as comparing Israel to the Nazis); some have actively supported terrorist organizations, but their right to express themselves remains. Still, anyone who wants to see the bigger picture should be careful with boycotts. They are seldom effective and tend to end up hurting the wrong people, and although it is tempting to make comparisons to boycotts like the one against South African apartheid, the analogy is wrong.

The conflict in the Middle-East is nothing like that in South Africa and a boycott policy against one side in it is simplistic at best and biased, unbalanced and hypocritical at worst. This is not to say that Israel cannot be criticized, but Swedes should be careful when using a tool as powerful as boycotts. Sweden had no problem participating (and winning twenty medals) in the 1936 Berlin Olympics under Hitler or participating in the Beijing games despite China's massive violations of Human Rights. Hundreds of demonstrating students were killed by government forces just days before the 1968 Mexico-City Olympic Games, but that didn't "Stop the Match" for Swedish athletes just like the British soldiers who shot unarmed civil right activists in Derry, Northern Ireland didn't bring about any boycotts against English products or English cultural and sporting events. Does this make the calls for boycotting the Davis Cup match against Israel invalid? Of course not. But it would imply that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany and that Israeli policies brought about events more severe than the Irish Bloody Sunday, the Mexican Tlateloco Massacre and the events of Tiananmen Square all combined! It is clear what kind of people make claims like this.

And here's one last thought for the demonstrators in Malmö who must be very proud of the exposure their campaign has received these last couple of months. They gained support, their case is all over the media and they even forced local officials to close the controversial match to the public. But here is a word of advice: don't be too pleased with Malmö's decision to give in to threats. The same authorities that cannot stand up to today's threats will not stand up to those of tomorrow. What started as threats against tennis players and fans could easily lead to threats by ultra nationalists against immigrants or Neo-Nazi threats against Mosques and Madrasahs. "The ultimate weakness of violence", Martin Luther King once said, "is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it".

David Stavrou (news@thelocal.se)

Today's headlines
New coalition
New coalition reveals 'compromise' budget
Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and Green Party leader Åsa Romson. Photo: TT

New coalition reveals 'compromise' budget

Prime Minister Stefan Löfven's Social Democrat-led coalition has revealed its first budget proposal, listing plans to spend more than 20 billion kronor. READ  

Business and Money
Global profit boost for Sweden's Handelsbanken
Handelsbanken is Sweden's second largest bank. Photo: Bertil Eriksson/TT

Global profit boost for Sweden's Handelsbanken

Sweden's second-largest bank, Handelsbanken, has reported a rise in third-quarter profits, boosted by higher income from its loan book as it continues its expansion overseas. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden pulls back 'submarine' search
Navy vessels remain in the archipelago. Photo: Lars Pehrson/TT

Sweden pulls back 'submarine' search

Sweden is pulling back part of the naval operation which has been searching for a suspected Russian submarine off the coast of Stockholm for nearly a week. READ  

Julian Assange
Assange prepares for court ruling
Julian Assange at Ecuador's embassy in the UK. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Assange prepares for court ruling

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says he is "confident" his asylum status will be resolved, as he awaits an imminent ruling on his case by a Swedish court. READ  

Opinion
'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'
The submarine hunt is now in it's sixth day. Photo: TT

'Why were we kept in the dark for years?'

Military expert Johanne Hildebrandt tells The Local that the biggest question in the Stockholm submarine hunt hasn't been answered yet - why don't we know more about the "other operations" from the last few years? READ  

The Local List
Eight things to love about renting in Sweden
Apartments in Sweden are compact. Photo: Shutterstock

Eight things to love about renting in Sweden

A housing crisis means that short-term sublets are the norm in major cities and rent regulation rules are frequently flouted. But this week, The Local's decided to look on the bright side of renting an apartment in Sweden. READ  

Business & Money
Nordea banks big third-quarter profit gain
Nordea's Chief Executive Christian Clausen. Photo: TT

Nordea banks big third-quarter profit gain

Swedish bank Nordea announced on Wednesday a sharp rise in third quarter profits despite the economic slowdown and major outlays for an IT overhaul. READ  

National
Knutby priest faces early release from prison
Knutby in eastern Sweden, the scene of the murder. Photo: TT

Knutby priest faces early release from prison

A former priest in eastern Sweden who was sentenced to life in prison for organizing the murder of his wife has had his sentence reduced. READ  

Opinion
'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

'Sweden will see Russia as a threat again'

The Local speaks to one of Europe's leading security experts about why social media meant the Swedish military couldn't keep their 'submarine' search a secret and how she believes the country will ramp up its security against Russia. READ  

Interview
'Swedes are funnier than they think'
Comedian Al Pitcher has launched his new tour. Photo: www.alpitcher.com

'Swedes are funnier than they think'

New Zealand-born Al Pitcher launched his new comedy show in Stockholm this week. There wasn't a dull moment as The Local phoned up the man who has become one of Sweden's hottest comedians, while he took an eventful stroll in the capital. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
Blog updates

21 October

Denna & den här (The Swedish Teacher) »

"?Denna? or ?den hr?? Swedish language students often ask question about different pronouns. One pronoun that especially..." READ »

 

19 October

Getting it (Blogweiser) »

"Follow Joel Sherwood on FB Few watch baseball in Sweden. This is excellent when your team loses..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Politics
Ten new minister faces you should know
Tech
First womb transplant baby in world born in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 5th
National
What's on in Sweden
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

979
jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit:
www.swedishdowntown.com
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN