In a statement Tuesday, UEFA said it “understands that the intention is also to send a message to promote diversity and inclusion.” But European soccer’s governing body reiterated its goal of political neutrality in denying Munich’s petition and proposed illuminating the stadium on other dates.
“Given the political context of this specific request — a message aiming at a decision taken by the Hungarian national parliament — UEFA must decline this request,” the group said in a statement.
UEFA responded further via Twitter on Wednesday, saying it “is proud to wear the colours of the rainbow” but reiterating that it considered Germany’s request for a rainbow-lit stadium to be “political” because it was linked to Hungary’s appearance at the stadium.
The backlash to UEFA’s initial denial Tuesday was swift, with Reiter describing UEFA’s decision as “shameful.” Speaking to reporters Tuesday, he said the suggestion from the soccer organization to light up the stadium on another day was “ridiculous.”
“I don’t see the point of this proposal,” he said.
Other German cities, including Cologne, Frankfurt and Berlin, said they would light up their stadiums in rainbow colors during the match instead. LGBT groups also plan to hand out rainbow flags to fans entering the stadium in Munich for Wednesday’s Euro 2020 match.
“We are happy to participate,” Christoph Meyer, spokesman for Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper. “Because we are committed to tolerance and human rights.”
The report said the Berlin senate was discussing whether to light up the city’s iconic Brandenburg Gate in rainbow colors during the match.
“What an indictment #UEFA,” tweeted Ramona Pop, a Green Party senator for Berlin for economy and energy.
The erosion of rights for the LGBT community in Hungary and nearby Poland has put both countries on a collision course with the European Union.
In Poland, local districts have created legislation declaring themselves free of “LGBT ideology.” In Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban is pursuing a staunchly conservative Christian agenda ahead of elections next year, human rights groups say the atmosphere is increasingly stifling. Last year, Hungary banned same-sex couples from adopting children.
The new law against LGBT “propaganda” adopted last week bans anything that might be deemed as “promoting” an LGBT orientation to those younger than 18. After meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday, 13 European countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, France and Belgium, released a statement expressing “grave concern” about the new law, which they said violated the rights to freedom of expression “under the pretext of protecting children.”
“It represents a flagrant form of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and hence deserves to be condemned,” the statement said. “Inclusion, human dignity and equality are core values of our European Union, and we cannot compromise on these principles.”
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó defended his country’s position and also accused Western European nations of mixing politics and sports.
“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, per the Associated Press. “They want to express this by including politics in a sporting event, which has nothing to do with the passing of national laws.”
According to ESPN play-by-play announcer Derek Rae, who regularly calls professional games in the German Bundesliga, Orban won‘t attend Wednesday night’s Germany-Hungary game.
UEFA and FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, have long tried to portray themselves as politically neutral and have warned teams about allowing any government influence in the sport. Nevertheless, decisions made by FIFA and UEFA have been viewed as overtly political, opening up the groups to accusations of hypocrisy.
In the run-up to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, FIFA allowed Vitaly Mutko to join its executive committee in 2009 even though he was serving as the Russian government’s sports minister at the time. Mutko was a member of the committee and its successor, the FIFA Council, until 2017, when soccer’s governing body announced he could not seek reelection to the council because of his government role.
UEFA’s decision to award the 2019 Europa League final and Euro 2020 group-stage matches to Baku, Azerbaijan, also has been criticized by human rights activists. The Azerbaijan government has long banned Armenian citizens or people of Armenian descent from entering the country without formal permission, and it also has been accused of numerous human rights violations, including crackdowns on journalists and dissenters.
The decision to prohibit rainbow lights on the Munich stadium came only days after the German soccer federation announced that UEFA had given goalkeeper Manuel Neuer permission to wear a rainbow-colored captain’s armband during Euro 2020 games. Though UEFA has not commented on that matter, the German federation said UEFA considered the armband a “good cause” because it’s a symbol of diversity.
Loveday Morris and Luisa Beck in Berlin and Quentin Aries in Brussels contributed to this report.