European Football Championship 2021 – A tournament for everyone?

In June and July of 2021, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) holds its championship tournament, and fans across the globe have been captivated with exciting matches for almost two weeks now. Long before the last whistle is blown, the event has sparked quite a number of controversies already, particularly on social media platforms – and not all of these revolve around football. One of the most heated debates on Twitter so far relates to the UEFA’s positioning towards diversity rights in the run-up to the German-Hungarian game on June 23. The city of Munich, host of the match, wanted to light up its stadium in the pride flag’s rainbow colors to show support for the LGTB community. The request was denied by the UEFA, maintaining that such an illumination would constitute a political statement criticizing the Hungarian government. Fans and activists on Twitter responded with harsh criticism and, among others, cited a two-year old tweet by the UEFA in which the Union had explicitly expressed its support for the LGBTQ community. Other Twitter users reacted by saying that the whole debate was “annoying” and that this event “should be about football, not politics”. The discussion surrounding Munich’s stadium was not the first concerning the display of the pride flag during the tournament: Germany’s goalkeeper Manuel Neuer had been wearing a rainbow armsling during the team’s matches before, and was subsequently investigated by the UEFA for potential violation of rules. ⚽🌈

These debates highlight how questions of culture and politics are intertwined on the national and European level, including how closely alleged political support and human rights are connected to sports and leisure time in public opinion. They also show that events such as a highly anticipated sports tournament with millions of viewers across the world do not take place in a cultural vacuum, but directly relate to citizens’ experiences and modes of expressions – particularly on social media. In the INVENT-project, we strive to understand the dynamics of such processes in order to gain a better insight into the role of culture in European citizen’s life. 

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