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Anthems: Better Banned Than Booed
by Paul Gardner, October 23rd, 2008 7AM



It is utterly perverse, and quite typical of soccer, that the French -- the only country with a national anthem worth listening to -- should come up with this choice example of utter buffoonery: if, when the anthem, La Marseillaise, is being played before a soccer game, someone boos, then the upcoming game should immediately be called off.

As to the mechanics -- the logistics, if you like -- of putting that remarkable suggestion into practice, I'll pass over that. Because the main point I want to address is this: Why do we have to have anthems played at games anyway? What purpose do they serve? Generally speaking, in soccer they are played only at international games -- between national or club teams. In this country, things are not done by halves, so we have the unalloyed thrill of listening to the Stars and Stripes get mangled before every big game, whether it involves foreign teams or not. A tradition, of course, but a meaningless one. One that merely lowers the level of respect and dignity that is supposed to surround a national anthem.

But I suppose there's not much hope of that being changed. So we shall continue to have MLS games introduced by discordant episodes.

For the moment, it seems that this will also continue to be the case for international soccer games elsewhere. I asked what purpose this rather pathetic display of nationalism serves. As far as I can see, it serves no purpose at all -- no positive purpose, that is. It enlivens and inspires the fans, maybe? Please, pull the other one. If the fans at an international game need a national anthem to remind them of why they're there and which team they came to support ... what kind of fans are those?

But from the negative point of view, the anthems offer a great opportunity to vent spleen and general nastiness on the opposing team, and their fans and, of course, on their country.

Hence the booing and the general desire of fans to make a lot of rude noises when the other team's anthem starts up. And when one group of fans does it, it's more than likely that their opposing fans will respond in kind.

Which would be all good clean fun, merely a sign of a highly competitive game in a great atmosphere -- if it weren't for the fact that anthems are considered sacrosanct, that they are a delicate commodity that must not be treated in the rough-and-ready, robust way that everything else at a soccer game has to put up with. That alone should indicate that anthems, with their almost religious atmosphere, and the super-sensitivity that surrounds them, do not belong in raucous stadiums. They are virtually bound to be treated with disrespect.

Three years ago, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter made a straightforward, very sensible comment on the matter, after a home-and-home World Cup qualifying series between Switzerland and Turkey had seen both anthems take a battering. Said Blatter: "That was so disrespectful and a slur on a nation's pride. It makes me wonder if it makes any sense continuing to play national anthems." He added that FIFA would look into the possibility of discontinuing the practice.

No move has been made, so the tragi-comedy goes on, and here comes French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot bustling her self-important way on to the scene, furious that La Marseillaise was booed before a recent France vs. Tunisia exhibition game -- at the Stade de France in Paris, no less. So we got a stern lecture: "Government members will immediately leave the arena where our national anthem has been whistled. Any match when our national anthem is whistled will be stopped immediately."

Talk about keeping politics out of soccer! To his enormous credit, UEFA president and former French star and idol Michel Platini, quickly condemned the idea as absurd. He was then told -- by the politicians -- to butt out, and that he should stick to soccer matters.

Which is exactly right. But that's what he is doing, because this is a soccer matter. The fans do not turn up in their tens of thousands because an anthem is being played. They're there to see a soccer game. The occasion is a soccer occasion. It is the politicians who should stick to politics, and stay out of soccer. But as long as anthems are played, the politicians will always feel obliged to put in their 10 cents worth -- whether it's government ministers or a politician who seizes on an opportunity to score points. In this case, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, was quick to announce that the booing -- assumed to be by Tunisian fans -- was proof that the "integration of foreign masses to our culture is a failure as it is a utopia."

Platini is right about the absurdity. But he is in a position to keep the politicians out of soccer, by putting some steel into his words and simply having UEFA ban anthems at all of its games. Were he to do that, could FIFA lag behind?


  1. Clark Speese
    commented on: October 23, 2008 at 8:47 a.m.
    It's sad that the solution lies in removing the anthems (intended as a sign of respect for the nations and athletes involved), rather than in the apparently hopeless task of correcting the churlish lack of sportsmanship which is ruining sport.
  1. William Carveth
    commented on: October 23, 2008 at 11:18 a.m.
    I concur with the author of this article. I would add that in our effort to be political correct to all (as if that were possible) we have forgotten that one of the orignal reason for the playing of an anthem was to respect the home country/region/king (which ever applied) for providing the pitch (venue) on which the visiting team could come challenge the home team. So to be historically correct one should likely play the Home team anthem at the beginning of the match and the winners anthem at the completion of the match. Maybe that is the reason the olympics format is as it is??
  1. Jeffrey Maygers
    commented on: October 23, 2008 at 1:27 p.m.
    Perhaps FIFA should look into what UEFA did. Instead of national anthems before Champions League games, they play a anthem specifically written for UEFA. If FIFA commissioned an anthem to be written and told the federations to play that anthem instead of the national anthems of the countries playing, you would not have anybody's feeling getting hurt when some idiot boos it. The US national anthem is booed sometimes when the national team plays abroad (and at home occasionally). FIFA having its own anthem would (hopefully) stop all that.
  1. Eddie Mulrenan
    commented on: October 23, 2008 at 6:53 p.m.
    Why should national anthems be banned for rude obnoxious fans. That is like banning Irish catholic players from playing against rangers in Scotland or preventing black players playing against clubs whose racist fans do Monkey chants. Punish the home clubs of such rude bhavior(booing-whistling) at national anthems ,like moron obnoxious racist fans are penalized by having their home football-soccer clubs forfeit home dates for games at nuetral sites. Bigotry is nationalistic as well as ethnic and racial. Punish the home sides-teams for their fans Moron loud and rude behavior, not banning national anthems. Ed M. USA

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