The match was scheduled to be played from March 6th to 8th at the Baltiska Hallen venue, which can hold 4,000 spectators. Police had said the match could go ahead and that the public could be admitted.
The decision to ban the public was made by the council’s sports and recreation committee on Wednesday afternoon. A Social Democrat and Left Party-led motion to have the match played in an empty hall was passed by five votes to four.
A “Stop the Match” campaign has been underway in Sweden since Israel’s offensive in Gaza erupted last December, and thousands of demonstrators are expected to rally outside the Baltiska Hallen during the match, according to campaign organizers and police.
But the chairman of the sports and recreation committee, Bengt Forsberg (SocDem), insisted that there was no political motive behind his party’s support for the spectator ban:
“This is absolutely not a boycott. We do not take political positions on sporting events,” he told The Local.
“We have made a judgment that this is a high-risk match for our staff, for players and for officials.”
Forsberg conceded that police had given the event the green light, but added: “ultimately, Malmö council is responsible for safety and security.”
But local Moderate Party representatives were furious at the outcome of the vote, arguing that the match could have gone ahead with spectators and heightened security:
“I don’t think we should allow anti-democratic forces to decide how we run sporting events,” John Roslund, a Moderate Party member of the committee, told The Local.
“Both police and council officials have said that the match could go ahead,” Roslund added.
Some members of Malmö’s Jewish community find it hard to believe that the decision was taken purely on safety grounds:
”I can’t prove it but it is hard not to view it as political,” said community member Barbro Posner.
“The decision is a capitulation to violence and the mob, but it is in line with the malignant atmosphere for Israel and Jews in Malmö.”
According to Posner, Malmö’s Jewish community has been the recipient of “concrete threats” in recent months. A recent peaceful demonstration in support of Israel and civilian victims on both sides of the violence in the Middle East, which Posner helped organize, was pelted with rotten eggs, bottles, stones and tomatoes.
The Davis Cup match between the two countries hit the headlines in January when a prominent Social Democrat in southern Sweden likened Israel to apartheid South Africa and Nazi Germany in calling for a boycott.
“Israel is an apartheid state. I think Gaza is comparable to the Warsaw ghetto,” said Ingalill Bjartén, the vice chair for the Social Democratic women’s organization (S-kvinnor) in Skåne in southern Sweden, to the Sydsvenskan newspaper.
“I’m surprised that Israel – where large numbers of the population suffered under the Nazis – can do the exact same things the Nazis did.”