FIFA 2018 is nearing the quarter-finals. During the group stage 9 days ago, a Russian newspaper told the story of a boy and his family who almost got in trouble because of the flag of their home town. Stadium security guards check every flag and banner at the World Cup in the search of “materials of extremist, offensive or discriminatory nature”.
The Martynenko family from Chelyabinsk had tickets for the Germany-Sweden match on June 23 at the Olympic Stadium in Sochi. With them the family had brought their city flag and the Russian national tricolour with the inscription Chelyabinsk. At the entrance to the stadium the family was stopped and questioned because of the city flag that none of the guards recognized.
“Their job is to look for propaganda of prohibited, extremist organizations, and insulting inscriptions. Our flag with a camel was nearly taken away,” Yevgeny Martynenko told Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian tabloid newspaper.
The guards summoned an expert who also did not know the camel and its connection to Chelyabinsk. “I had to use the internet to prove it to them,” Yevgeny Martynenko explained.
Chelyabinsk is a city with approximately 1 million inhabitants just to east of the Ural Mountains, the border between Asia and Europe. The city’s coat of arms and banner depict a golden camel in front of a silver crenellated wall. The camel, which also appears in the arms of Chelyabinsk Oblast, represents the old trading routes passing through the area from Central Russia and the Volga Region to the steppes, Siberia and China.
Russia is the host of the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Russian authorities and stadium security personel do their best to keep controversial flags and banners away from no less than 64 football matches played in 12 stadiums over four and a half weeks.
According to the Stadium Code of Conduct for the World Cup in Russia, all flags with Nazi symbols and attributes of extremist organisations are prohibited as well as any flag which discriminates against a country or person or group “based on race, colour of skin, ethnic, national or social background and wealth, birth or any other status, gender, disability, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, sexual orientation or on any other grounds”.
Under such rules almost all flags that are not the national flags of the 32 qualified countries can be prohibited, and so far all Russian and foreign flags with extreme nationalist, separatist, religious and right or left wing ideological messages have been kept well out of view of the television cameras.
International visitors to the World Cup have had similar experiences as the Martynenkos from Chelyabinsk when guards have been unwilling to let in regional and county flags wrongly deemed to be sectarian or carrying controversial political messages. For example, read the story of England fan Daniel Henery here.
Yevgeny Martynenko and his family were let in to watch the match between Sweden and Germany in Sochi, and his son Semyon proudly carried their city flag in the stadium and afterwards. Back home in Chelyabinsk he will now wave the flag with the camel in front of the TV to support the Russian team in the knockout stage.