• 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)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
Getinge Floods
Rain to continue 'all week' as flood worsens
Photo: Anders Andersson/TT

Rain to continue 'all week' as flood worsens

UPDATED: Sweden's weather agency issued a severe weather warning for the extreme rains and flooding in southern Sweden, adding that the rains are likely to continue all week. READ  

Sweden and the Bronx
Swedes celebrate 375th anniversary of the Bronx
The Bronx. Photo:Shutterstock.

Swedes celebrate 375th anniversary of the Bronx

What do the Bronx and Sweden have in common? More than an affiliation with the Yankees, it turns out. And one small Swedish town is about to make that abundantly clear. READ  

Bildt: 'We must increase efforts in Iraq'
Bildt in Baghdad on Monday. Photo: Karim Kadim/TT

Bildt: 'We must increase efforts in Iraq'

After meeting with refugees and politicians in Iraq on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said Sweden must increase its efforts to help Iraq reach a lasting solution. READ  

Swedes slam 'racist' art show from Denmark
One of the participants in the art project. Photo: Anna Andrea Malzer, Global Stories

Swedes slam 'racist' art show from Denmark

Swedes have gathered in numbers to protest against a Danish "blackface" art show in Malmö, which organizers say is supposed to give "a deeper understanding of discrimination". READ  

Presented by Stockholm School of Economics
Swedish school with executive appeal
Photo: Stockholm School of Economics

Swedish school with executive appeal

More and more executives are combining work with further education, namely an MBA. The Local explains just how the process works at the Stockholm School of Economics with its Executive MBA program. READ  

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week
Fastighetsbyrån

In Pictures: The Local's Property of the Week

Ever wanted to live in a loft-like apartment on the hip district of Södermalm, with a view like something out of a colourful children's book? Check out The Local's Property of the Week. READ  

Sweden to get 100,000 refugees in 2014: report
Refugees in Iraq. Photo: Khalid Mohammed/TT

Sweden to get 100,000 refugees in 2014: report

UPDATED: Sweden can expect a record-breaking 100,000 refugees to arrive this year, reported Swedish media on Tuesday. The Migration Board said the prognosis was officially 60,000 in July. READ  

Swedish town on alert over toilet invader
The man pictured is not the Bajsmannen. Photo:Shutterstock.

Swedish town on alert over toilet invader

A town in central Sweden is on the lookout after a mystery suspect has repeatedly broken into apartments and defecated in their toilets. READ  

Riksbank: We must take action on household debt
Riksbank Governor Stefan Ingves. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Riksbank: We must take action on household debt

The Swedish economy is beginning to recover after several difficult years - but the risk for household indebtedness remains high, Swedish Riksbank Governor Stefan Ingves warned. READ  

Assange extradition battle
'Assange to stay put until US guarantee': lawyer
Photo: John Stillwell/TT

'Assange to stay put until US guarantee': lawyer

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is wanted in Sweden for rape allegations, has made it clear he will not leave the Ecuador embassy in London until it is guaranteed he will not be extradited to the US. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Sponsored Article
Find out what gives this Swedish school executive appeal
Society
Serial chicken smuggler caught at Norway border. Again.
Society
This gold coin may be the key to solving a Swedish massacre
Shutterstock
Lifestyle
The Swedish mentor (and why you may need one)
National
Food agency warns girls: 'Don't eat stinky fish'
Blog updates

17 August

Sea Fever (Around Sweden in a kayak) »

"I’m going to keep this post short and sweet as its not something I take any pleasure in writing. After much deliberation I have made the heartbreaking decision to abandon my trip after 1200km due to reoccurring injury. It is not a decision I have made lightly and it is one that has been truly devastating..." READ »

 

17 August

St. Louis strong (Blogweiser) »

"It’s typically a bad sign when my hometown makes news in Sweden. St. Louis was in the headlines here a few years ago when a tornado struck the airport. The city also caught attention after a politician talked about ‘legitimate rape’. Now, shooting and riots this week in Ferguson, a part of St. Louis, are..." READ »

 
 
 
Politics
Reinfeldt calls for tolerance to refugees
Gallery
People-watching August 16-17
National
Sweden celebrates 200 years of peace
Society
Top ten literal Swedish words
Politics
'Terror training should be illegal': Liberal Party
Gallery
Swedes talk about 200 years of national peace
Politics
Islamic extremist shakes Sweden with TV threat
National
Teacher fined for 'Hitler salute' in German class
Politics
Swedish politician proposes ban on begging
National
Swede asks for epidural and gets disinfectant
National
Swede reports 'expensive' sex to police
Education
Sweden plans to scrap SFI for adult education
Features
Kiruna residents talk life in a town on the move
TT
Politics
Why is feminism such a hot topic in Sweden?
National
Swedish dad takes kids to Israel to learn about war
National
RIP Åle, the world's oldest eel
Society
Introducing: The Swedish crayfish party
National
Stockholm bus spontaneously combusts
Travel
Top five tips for climbing Sweden's tallest mountain
Skatteverket
Sponsored Article
Introducing... ID cards and permits in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Your finances in Stockholm
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Housing in Stockholm
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

660
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