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European soccer’s governing body declines Munich’s application for a rainbow-colored stadium

Munich’s stadium is illuminated in rainbow colors on the occasion of Christopher Street Day in Munich, Germany, in 2016
Munich’s stadium was illuminated in rainbow colors on Christopher Street Day in 2016. European soccer’s governing body declined the city council’s application to repeat the colors for Germany’s final Euro 2020 group game against Hungary on Wednesday.
(Tobias Hase / Associated Press)

German soccer clubs are banding together to display rainbow colors during the country’s European Championship match against Hungary on Wednesday after the Union of European Football Assns. rejected host city Munich’s plan to illuminate its stadium in support of LGBTQ rights.

Clubs in Berlin, Frankfurt, Cologne, Wolfsburg, Augsburg, Bremen and Düsseldorf will light up their venues during Wednesday’s final group game in Munich in response to UEFA’s decision to deny the city council’s application to illuminate the stadium in rainbow colors.

UEFA — the governing body of European soccer, which has the final say as organizer of the Euro 2020 tournament — said Tuesday that it understood the intention behind the council’s proposal but “must decline this request” because of its political context: “a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament.”

Bavaria’s Lesbian and Gay Assn. said it will hold protests outside and inside the stadium. Christopher Street Day Germany, which organizes LGBTQ pride events, said it was cooperating with other groups, including Queeramnesty, to distribute 11,000 rainbow flags to fans attending the game.

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Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter’s application to UEFA made clear that the city wanted to protest a law passed last week in Hungary that prohibits the sharing with minors of content portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment. The law was denounced as anti-LGBTQ discrimination by human rights groups.

Reiter described UEFA’s decision as “shameful” and said it was “very disappointing” that the German soccer federation failed to give the city’s proposal more support.

Hungary and Poland have faced criticism in the EU for years over allegations that they are eroding judicial and media independence, among other democratic principles.

Federation spokesman Jens Grittner suggested Monday that it might be an option to display the colors in the days after Hungary’s visit. Munich will host a quarterfinal match at Euro 2020 on July 2.

“A laughable counterproposal,” Reiter said. “I don’t know what the point of this proposal is supposed to be.”

Reiter said he expects to raise rainbow flags over city hall and to have a wind turbine near the stadium and the city’s Olympic Tower illuminated in rainbow colors.

“We in Munich certainly won’t let ourselves be discouraged from sending a clear signal to Hungary and the world,” Reiter said.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó on Monday criticized the German position.

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“In Hungary we have passed a law to protect Hungarian children, and now in Western Europe they are griping about it,” Szijjártó said in Luxembourg. “They want to express this by including politics in a sporting event, which has nothing to do with the passing of national laws.”

UEFA said it believes “discrimination can only be fought in close collaboration with others” and proposed that Munich illuminate the stadium with rainbow colors on June 28 for Christopher Street Day or July 3-9 for the city’s LGBTQ pride week. The body said these dates “align better with existing events.”

But the delayed action undermined Munich’s planned protest against what it called “the homophobic and transphobic legislation of the Hungarian government.”

Hungary’s National Assembly approved the bill against sharing LGBTQ content with minors last week in a 157-1 vote; one independent lawmaker voted against it, and all other opposition parties boycotted the voting session in protest.

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“This legislation represents a new mark in the invisibility and disenfranchisement of lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender and intersex people (LGBTI) and adds to the systematic restriction of the rule of law and fundamental freedoms that have been practiced for years in Hungary,” the Munich council said in its application, which had cross-party support.

Hungarian lawmakers have approved legislation banning the legal recognition of transgender citizens.

UEFA said it understood the council’s intention to send a message to promote diversity and inclusion but stressed that it was “a politically and religiously neutral organization.”

Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for Europe, said UEFA’s decision was “bitter but expected” and called for fans attending the game to show their colors in the stadium.

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“Set an example for diversity and solidarity with LGBTI people in Hungary and all over Europe! LGBTI rights are human rights!” Roth wrote on Twitter.

Bavarian governor Markus Söder also decried UEFA’s decision.

“It would have been a very good sign of tolerance and freedom. We have to stand up against exclusion and discrimination,” Söder wrote on Twitter.

Plans for other stadiums to be illuminated with rainbow colors quickly gathered support Tuesday.

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“If Munich is not allowed on Wednesday, then the other stadiums in the country will have to show their colors. Come now, league colleagues!” Axel Hellman, spokesman for sports club Eintracht Frankfurt, wrote on Twitter.

Berlin Deputy Mayor Ramona Pop accused UEFA of hypocrisy.

“Always happy to be lauded for actions against homophobia and racism, but not allowing a rainbow stadium as a symbol of tolerance and diversity at Euro 2020. What a poor showing, UEFA!” Pop said.

On Sunday, UEFA gave the go-ahead for German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer to continue wearing a captain’s armband with the rainbow colors at the tournament.

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“What does the rainbow stand for?” German government spokesman Steffen Seibert asked Monday. “It stands for how we want to live: with respect for each other, without the discrimination that has long excluded minorities. And surely the vast majority of people can relate to that.”

Coach Joachim Löw said the German soccer team will keep advocating tolerance and diversity.

“Personally I would have liked it if the stadium had been lit up in these colors, if these lights had come on,” Löw said. “We have set signs in the past and will continue to do so in the future. But it’s important that these values are also lived.”


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